(Posted by Xavier)
Driving up the west coast from Haast we enter the glacier zone. We make a quick right and drive down a short road that ends in a gravel parking lot. It’s now overcast with a cold wind. We jump out of the car and bundle up for a hike to see Fox Glacier. As we put on our rain gear we hear this thumping coming from just beyond the parking lot. We walk over to see what it is and come upon a glacier fed river with chunks of icy blue glacier pieces being bounced off river boulders by the rushing river. As we start our walk towards the glacier, we can see it in the distance, when CRACK! We look up to see a piece of the glacier splash down into the river. Yikes! We finally get to the viewing spot (the furthest you can go without a guide), take some pictures and decide to move on to Franz Josef Glacier to see if we can actually get on to the glacier. Stopping at the Franz Josef i-Site information booth we are told the only way to get onto the glaciers is by helicopter. Since that was several hundred $ out of our budget we decide to walk the 2-mile hike to our second glacier of the day. Hoping the weather will hold out for us, we drive into the abyss of the deep glacier valley. A dark and heavy mist meets us as we set off on our hike. Walking up the rocky glacier valley, along a icy river, surrounded by steep cliffs and over a dozen cascading waterfalls, the valley grows ever darker as a light rain starts to fall on us. It’s cold and majestic, and we’re at the mercy of this deep valley’s own weather system. It’s now raining a cold icy rain and every returning hiker is completely wet. We get to the final viewing post of Franz Josef Glacier. We take a few quick pictures of the immenseness and turn back. As we make our way back out the valley towards a lighter shade of grey clouds, the downpour eases to a light mist. We didn’t talk much during the hike. Whether it was because of the weather conditions, the hike or the choice we had taken, it was definitely one more memorable event we experienced.
We spend that rainy night in a basic campervan park with just one composting toilet. It didn’t matter — it was booked up with all sorts of campervans. In the morning we make our coffee and some buttered toast then drive into town. Once in town we make a beeline to West Coast Wildlife Center to see the Kiwi (the rare rowi variety). Here we learn how animals that were introduced to New Zealand to control the over-breeding of other introduced animals (rabbits), have come to the point of almost bringing many of the native animals to the point of extinction. The Kiwi are one of those animals striving to survive. The Wildlife Center runs a preservation program that raises kiwis until they are adolescents large enough to fend for themselves then releases them back into the wild — and it looks to be having some success. At the Wildlife Center we get to see several of these adolescent Kiwis. In a word, adorable.
After that wonderful Kiwi experience we decide to check out a popular cafe that offers free wifi and also the famous “Whitebait Patties”. I had to try this New Zealand delicacy. What is it you say? Well, whitebait is a small fish (minnow size) that is caught where the rivers meet the ocean. They catch them in nets as they return back up the rivers to spawn. They are traditionally made in a scrambled egg pattie. Here’s the catch, they put the little fishy in whole. I talk to the kind lady at the counter about it for a bit and she says they’re delicious. Her young co-worker says she can never eat one because she doesn’t like the fish looking back at her. Okay, I’ll try one. Mmmmm, tasty! Kristin tries a bite but quickly returns to her bowl of soup.
All fueled up on local delicacies and a good dose of wifi, we are back on the road, this time to Hokitika to see the jade factory/jewelers. Along the way we stop at a few places with local character, including the Road Kill restaurant with local exotic meats (possum, venison, tahr, etc.) We didn’t eat there, but we did stop in Ross, where we had enjoyable time talking to the locals about the history of the area, having a drink and enjoying a venison pie at the Historic Empire Hotel.
Arriving late in Hokitika (If we haven’t mentioned it yet, up to now, it has been our experience that everything closes down by 5 or 6pm) we rush to see some jade factory stores before they close. Green jade — pounama — is a local resource that was historically used by the Maori for jewelry and tools. Planning to spend the night here, Kristin rushes out to a local landmark to get some pictures at sunset. The next morning we take a quick walk around town and find a small jade shop off the main steet which sells it items at about half the price of the bigger factory stores, and a wonderful bakery (Village Bakers). The charming sales lady convinced us to try her Frangipani fresh from the oven — they were simply wonderful as they melted in our mouths. Mmmm…butter.
Next stop: Hokitika Gorge, known for its amazing blue water. Unfortunately they weren’t so blue because of recent rains washing sediment down the river — but we enjoy the mini-hike and walking across the small suspension bridge.
Our next stop up the road is amazing: Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki)! First, the drive reminded us of Big Sur, only with rainforest vegetation. Then we get to Pancake Rocks. We didn’t know what to expect, but all I can say is if you plan to ever go see them, give yourself plenty of time to enjoy and experience them. The crashing waves, the throaty sounds of blow holes, swirling torrents of ocean waters surging through large caverns, the occasional mist of ocean sprays, and then the marvelous Pancake Rocks themselves. We can only hope the pictures we post can convey their uniqueness.
Arthur’s Pass is our next stop and the last campsite in our campervan, Riddick. (Originally, we were to have made our way into Arthur’s Pass on our very first night in the campervan, but because of intense rain storms washing out a bridge and flooding roads we reworked our plans and routed our campervan venture in reverse.) Finally crossing into Arthur’s Pass we pass steep roadways, large valleys and snow capped mountains. On one stop to take pictures we are quickly met by the local high mountain residents: the Keas! We had seen these high mountain parrots before and were warned not to leave our car windows open because if we did we would soon need a new car interior. They quickly approach us and jump onto Riddick and start looking for an opening. Distracting them we each jump back into our Riddick and started to drive away. These pesky guys don’t jump off until we are back on the highway speeding along. Dang! Arriving at Arthur’s Pass Village, which is just on the other side of the pass, we find our campsite and are glad to see an enclosed cooking hut. Since it is blowing a rather cold blustery wind, cooking alongside Riddick would have made for a rather numbing last evening’s meal. We cook and eat our meal, take a short walk into the village — everything is closed — and decide to call it a night, our last night in the campervan. We open the skylight roof and enjoy basking under the beautiful pristine star-filled skies of the New Zealand high country.
The following morning we drive back into Christchurch and bid a fond farewell to Riddick and conclude the first leg of our New Zealand adventure.
(Sorry we still can’t figure out how to do captions, but pictures are in the general order of the text.)