Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gliding into Glacier Country

Day 7 (Sat, 26 Nov 2011)

Greymouth to Franz Josef Glacier: 188km

It's NZ Election Day! We've been seeing campaign posters and placards throughout the country, and it's been hogging the local news channels.

We had a leisurely start at 9.30am as we don't have that far to go today. It feels a bit funny saying 188km is "not far to go" but after traversing 400km some days, it really feels like a piece of cake! Who am I to talk anyway, since I'm not the one driving, haha.

We stopped at Hokitika which is a town known for its jade, blown glass and traditional crafts. We were hoping to see some glass blowing but we were told the craftsmen don't work on Saturdays. So we just hopped back into the car and drove on.

Today's drive is along the West Coast, so we could see the sea for the most part. As we drove closer to the glaciers, the water in the rivers became a shimmery turquoise - so blue that it looks almost unreal.

We made a pitstop at a little town called Hari Hari. The town is so small that the cafe doubles up as a grocery store and souvenir shop. It's very quaint and cute but I've always wondered how people live in towns where they can only buy stuff from one shop and have to drive for hours if they need more supplies or services. Unthinkable for us, coming from Singapore. But then, I guess New Zealanders wonder how we can live in shoeboxes on top of each other!

Back on the road, we saw a sign for a recreation spot and decided to drive in to take a look. We're glad we did. This is the Waitangi-Taona River and it is simply magnificent. Icy blue waters rolling along smooth, grey rocks. As we have a tendency to tell each other on this trip, "it's so pretty, really buay tahan."

We drove into Franz Josef much earlier than we had planned - so early that our motel room was not ready yet. So we wandered around the town, which is basically just one street.

Sidenote: The Kiwis are passionate about rugby and are staunchly behind the All Blacks. They patriotically display the All Blacks flags, posters and signs everywhere, from cafes and shops to the sides of farmhouses! The All Blacks recently won the Rugby World Championship, beating France 9-8. A local shopkeeper told us if they'd lost, there probably would have been nationwide riots.

A little about Franz Josef. It's a 12-km long glacier on the West Coast of NZ's South Island. Next to Fox Glacier, both are uniquely set amidst a temperate rainforest. The major attractions in this area are glacier walks, hikes and helicopter rides.

Franz Josef itself is a tiny township, with only 300+ inhabitants but because it's a major tourist spot, things here tend to be pricier, petrol included. We've found that it makes sense to pump up in cities or big towns which are not popular tourist spots, it tends to be cheaper.

After a simple cafe lunch of burgers and sandwiches, we checked into Alpine Glacier Motel at Franz Josef. I didn't realise it when booking this place but it's extremely centrally located on Cron Street (the main street in Franz Josef), walking distance to all the main attractions and eating places.

Once again, the motel didn't disappoint. Very comfortable and toasty.

We had booked 3 of us for a 5pm helicopter flight up to Franz Josef Glacier. Kenneth, with his motion sickness problems, wasn't keen, plus he'd done it before when he visited NZ with his family as a boy.

Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and blustery. It was actually cold, with temperatures averaging 13 degrees celcius in the day time. The glaciers couldn't even be seen and the pilot said the conditions were not safe for flying, so all flights were halted for the afternoon.

We were terribly disappointed and rebooked our flight for tomorrow morning. That's our only window for a flight before we leave Franz Josef, hopefully the weather clears up.

So we went for dinner instead at Alice Mays, another Internet recommendation. Before coming to NZ, we thought we'd be sick of western food very quickly but as it turns out, we're more tired of fried rice from Chinese takeouts! We had lamb shank and pork belly. The Kiwis just do their meats so well.

This was probably the most leisurely day we've had. After dinner, we just chilled out at the motel and borrowed some DVDs from the reception (Jurassic Park and James and the Giant Peach) to watch in the room. With cups of piping hot chocolate!

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