The snow has come! Yeay! Cue picture-postcard scenes of me frolicking round in colourful knitted sweaters and having snowball fights with my winter wonderland buddies... Except it's not really fallen on the ground, just on the mountains, including the road that leads over the top of them... And this was enough to get us officially snowed in as we couldn't actually get to our next destination.
But first things first. Couple of places to mention before the flakes began to fall. From the Abel Tasman National Park we headed down the coast through the Paparoa National Park and checked out the famous pancake rocks and accompanying blowholes. I have my Lonely Planet handy so can tell you that "through a process of layering and weathering known as stylobedding, the limestone rocks at Dolomite Point have formed into what look like layers of thin pancakes". The whole of the coastline here was mega impressive, and combined with rather bizarre vegetation which looked like something out of Jurrasic Park, and a misty haze hanging over the day, it was very mystical and wonderful.
Less mystical and wonderful was our home for the night in Barrytown, a town with a population of 200 and a one-stop-shop of a hostel/pub/pool hall/general meeting place for the locals where we bedded down in outdoor huts. Dashing across to the bathrooms, also outdoor but without even the luxury of a small oil fired radiator, was not much fun.
Still, our stay here is particularly of note as we randomly staged a fancy dress night - theme: the 80's - to keep the old spirits up in a town where absolutely nothing happens (other than a bus load of stray passengers pitching up every couple of days and randomly staging a fancy dress night). So drinking games, dancing on the bar and at least two pukers (not me) made for quite an eventful night.
After Bazzatown was Franz Josef, home to it's namesake glacier which is famous cos it's so close to the sea in such a temperate climate. Pretty strange, one minute you're in a rainforest and the next you're heading across the floor of a glacial valley and there's a big mountain of ice in the way. But this is the really fun part because a guided glacier walk takes you and your hired crampons up there onto the ice and through the cracks, and for us, headlong into a horrible storm. It was still an awesome day, really cool to be hiking up the ice and really beautiful - it's very blue and pretty - but the weather was bloody awful and even the guide suggested we turn for home a bit early because we were all absolutely freezing and wet through.
After we'd finished we had loads of hot chocolate in front of the roaring log fire though, and then we all treated ourselves to a big meal out and lots of booze at happy hour prices so these are the little rewards which make the unpleasant bits bearable.
The next day we hesitantly set off from Franz even though there were reports of snow-blocked roads ahead. We only got as far as Fox Glacier (the second of the two along the west coast) before a halt was called to proceedings and we ended up staying in Fox for the next two nights while we waited for things to clear up. A few people got a bit stressed at this development, they had to be places to be, flights to catch etc, but I have to confess I really enjoyed being stuck for a couple of days, having a lie in and just hanging out. Call me lazy, well I am. But we were in a lovely hostel and just sat round drinking, playing cards, backgammon etc.
On the second day Jackie and I had a good hike up to see the Fox Glacier (but not scale it this time) and it was all really nice. I even pulled out the old baking card such was my relaxed state - and the great kitchen facilities. Made an awesome batch of choc chip cookies which brought swoons from other guests when they were greeted with the smell coming out of the oven. God I'm smug. So now we have officially named Speights beer and cookies as the Fox 'snowed in special' a great combination which should always be consumed when stuck in a small town with nowhere to go.