It was time for me to leave Westport and set out on the 270 km journey to my next stop, Glacier Country.
After surviving the previous night’s perils which rocked all my senses, my early start began with yet another grey and dreary morning as I set off for Cape Foulwind. While I enjoyed the seals’ company, I was a bit grumpy about the rainy weather.
This shouldn’t have surprised me, because the South Island West Coast is notorious for such conditions, earning it the nickname of the Wet and Wild West Coast, receiving an average annual rainfall of about 2,000 to 10,000 mm. Also, my experience in Kaikoura with the seals has somewhat spoiled me when it comes to those lazy flippered animals. Anyway, after spending some time with the smelly blubbery beasts (I can see how the location got its name), it was back to the pavement for the part of my road trip which I both anticipated and dread the most. Winding roads are not exactly what you hope for when driving through scenic landscapes by yourself.
My curiosity and the sights around me threatened my safety more than the wet and winding conditions of the road itself, but I finally made it to the “World Famous in New Zealand” Punakaiki Rocks, also known as the Pancake Rocks. What is amazing about these geological formations is that scientists still don’t know how they achieved their unique shape. To my surprise, the rocks didn’t resemble a flat breakfast favorite of mine, but rather stacks upon stacks of them.
The site was flooded with rain along with hoards of Asian tour bus passengers flashing peace signs as their friends snapped away with their cameras, so I didn’t take too much time there. Once again, it was just me and my rubber ringed friends in the backseat, and music courtesy of the dodgy radio. Signs of civilization were few and far between, aside from the two “cities” of Greymouth (an unimpressionable small town jade capital – aka overpriced everything) and Hokitika (an absolutely charming little place, complete with clock tower and friendly Kiwi shopkeepers, and also a surprise glass-blowing demonstration).
In between these two notable places, I decided to stop at a random restaurant/gift shop/museum. A quick browse around the place led me to believe they experience quite a ranger of customers. Endearing warning signs about currency exchange (they do not accept Canadian currency due to a rocky relationship the owner had with a Canadian girl, which I assumed did not turn out so well), weather complaints (“if you are from England, you should be used to it so shut up already!”), and shoplifting (a sign posted next to a fake hand and axe told me that the owner was not afraid to use his sharp metal tool on those who attempted to rip him off) littered the small building and its trifecta of services. When I left, I passed a few hand-painted signs on the side of the road, which I can only assume were also the work of these shopkeepers.
The rest of the way brought me past numerous other coastal and mountainous sites through the valleys of the mountains. Rivers ran alongside me, and I couldn’t help but notice their amazing aqua blue color, making it seem like someone dumped a whole bunch of cotton candy colored dye into these rippling bodies of water.
Finally, I entered Glacier Country. Hardly deserving of this ambitious nickname, the towns of Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are about 45 minutes drive from one another and have a combined population of less than 500. The super small towns were expectedly touristy, but neatly tucked away in a beautiful little nook of the Southern Alps.
Refusing to be exploited for astounding amounts of money on an apparently overrated guided walk on the ice, I embarked on the easy 1 hour hike up to Franz Josef Glacier myself. The mostly flat walk was littered with beautiful waterfalls and twice as many people.
I got to the mouth of the icy wonder and was surprised at what I saw. What I expected to be resemblant of the wintery wonderland depicted in Ice Age turned out to be simply another valley with some snowy looking whiteness blanketed across it. Ray Romano’s voice was nowhere to be heard, and the ice seemed to have forgotten to show up that day.
I was gazing at the brilliant blues and ugly greys of the glacier when my thoughts about where to stay for the night (enjoy Franz Josef and head to Fox early in the morning, or rush to see Fox before dark tonight?) were interrupted by the ever so original “so, where are you from?” Being overly ecstatic to once again practice some social skills with something other than tires, I engaged in some small talk with this tour guide who was stopping here in Franz Josef for the night with his bus full of French tourists. Being that he had the knowledge and expertise to help me, I inquired as to what he thought of my two options for the remainder of the evening. He told me about where he was staying, and an offer which began as an assurance of helping me get a good rate on a dorm room eventually morphed into an invitation to use the spare bed in his complimentary hotel room. Fully aware of the situation I was potentially getting myself into, I accepted this offer, pleased to escape the discomforts of sharing a room and living space with smelly, disgusting backpackers. We set a meeting time, and I was back to the tranquility of my solitude. Driving out of the car park and back to the road, I was distracted by the sight of the most beautiful and perfectly symmetrical rainbow I have ever seen. I think this was Mother Nature’s way of apologizing and making up for my disappointment in the glacier. It was so magical!
After taking all the proper safety precautions, I found myself settling into an amazingly cozy little room, complete with its own private bathroom, kitchen, AND television. I was in heaven.
After enjoying some complimentary beer (another tour guide perk), he left for dinner with his guests, and I was left contented with my solitary peace and comfort, along with the company of American Idol and a free bottle of wine. My peace ended upon his return, and I was forced to listen to him tell me how awesome he was for about an hour. After he finally got sick of this as well, I successfully dodged all of his attempts at establishing some sort of chemistry between us and went to sleep. My luxurious life of not having to wash my dishes and having a beautiful bed ended abruptly with the shrill screeching of my host’s alarm clock, much too early for my taste. Yet again, my day consisted of the endless paved pattern of black and yellow. I went to Fox Glacier, which was much the same as Franz Josef, but more quiet, probably because most people had better things to do at this early hour, such as sleeping.
After enjoying the sights there, it was time to head off to my next destination: Queenstown.