Christchurch to Franz Josef Glacier, NZ
Sunday, December 17, 2000
We said our good-byes to the Carpenters (we’ll see them again in a few days) and made the three-hour drive to the west coast (The Westlands) via Arthur’s Pass. The drive was strikingly beautiful, but not quite as awesome as we expected. The landscape constantly changed, so quickly that Sandy’s reading of the guidebook barely kept up with what we were seeing outside the car. The scenery went from alluvial plain on the east, through a dry mountain range, snow-capped mountains and descent through heavily forested wetlands of the west coast and coastal plain. Our many picture taking-stops included the one-hour walk to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. It was quite a climb, but well worth the effort.
The prolific wild flowers on the east side of the mountain and the large number of braided rivers we passed were tough competition for the peaks. Braided rivers, by the way, refer to the wide, gravel-bed river banks that carry heavy springtime runoff. By this time of the year they carry only narrow meandering streams of water that look like they are, indeed, braided.
Coming down from the mountain, we were startled by the sudden appearance of the beautiful, aqua blue of the Tasman Sea. The beaches and surf were beautiful, and, strange to us, fenced off to manage grazing herds that went right up to the water. No beach bathing here … or high-rise condos!
Our first stop on the west coast was Hokitika, an old gold rush town that reminded us of something you’d see in the wild, wild west. We paused at a couple of scenic overlooks near the town, traded in our rental car for a replacement (leaking air conditioning) and wandered through the downtown area.
Finally, we drove the last stretch of the six-hour drive to Franz Josef Glacier where we located the Knightswood B&B and settled in. After arranging for a HeliHike to the glacier the next morning, we went back to town for a bite to eat and to look around. For a small town, it was quite busy. Actually, the waitress told us this is a slow time of year, just before Christmas.
- The depth of coverage in all media and in conversation over the US election squabble is amazing. Both the locals and all the other tourists from other countries seem equally immersed and knowledgeable.
- After four days of practice, and pretty well mastering a turn signal stalk on the right of the steering wheel, the South Island rental car we picked up in Christchurch has the stalk on the left!
- We are struck by the length of daylight. You can easily see by 4:30 am and it is still light at 9:30 pm. An advantage of southern hemisphere vacationing.
- Kristin: How’s the basketball going?
- Jackie: We found your kind of fudge, hard and sugary and delicious.
- Dennis: We’ve seen lots of “panelbeater” shops down here. Second career?
Franz Josef Glacier, NZ
Monday, 18 December, 2000
The morning dawned with heavy, low cloud cover that definitely precluded a morning HeliHike to Franz Josef Glacier (pronounced glah-seer) via helicopter. Our hostess, Jackie Knight, called the tour company to confirm that morning reservations would be delayed until noon. After breakfast, we packed the bags once again and headed for town to do e-mail and look around. At 11:30 we assembled to receive our glacier boots and crampons and boarded the helicopter for the ten-minute ride two thirds of the way up the glah-seer, just below the cloud cover. Our guides divided the twenty-two hikers into two groups, one more adventurous (including us) and the other less adventurous, and off we went.
The hike started innocently enough, across smooth ice, but quickly turned into increasingly varied terrain as we entered the fissured area near the bottom of a steep area of the glah-seer. We started the hike wearing fleeces and wind breakers, but soon shed them as the sun made its appearance full force and the sky cleared so that even Mt. Cook was visible. Soon we were learning how to use our ice axes and crampons to advantage as we made our way up and down steep ice ridges, past swirling rivulets of melting glah-seer water and a deep pool where we were tempted to take a refreshing swim. The highlight, besides the constant, magnificent views, was a climb up through an ice cave and subsequent descent back to the smooth area of the glah-seer. About two hours later we reboarded the helicopters to return to the town as the clouds filled in behind us.