Saturday, February 7, 2009

Queenstown to Franz Joseph Glacier

February 8, 2009—We stayed at Coronet Peak Hotel in Queenstown, which is actually 7 kilometers up the road to a ski area. As we approached the hotel, we had to drive over a one-lane bridge and saw quite a few emergency vehicles with men looking over the bridge. Below us is where the Shotover Jet boat takes you through the Shotover Canyons doing 360-degree turns along the way. We were sure that someone had been injured on a ride; however, we found out the next day that a tourist has pulled over near the bridge to watch one of the boats and had not set the parking brake. Yup, you guessed it. The car rolled off the cliff and into the river below, but luckily no one was in the car at the time.

The next morning we were off for Haast after a quick stop at the bakery for some goodies and coffee, which is called a “long black” here. The drive was along the Kawarau River, and when we reached the historic 1880 Kawarau Bridge, we noticed a sign for bungy jumping so we stopped. This was the world’s first commercial bungy jumping site in 1988, and you can leap 43 meters with the river below you for just $160 NZ. The Kawarau Bungy Centre has a dome theatre, bungy museum, café, and bar. We walked out to the observation platform and watched a young woman “take the plunge.” She was soon followed by a 12-year-old boy. It was great fun to watch.

A few miles up the road we stopped at a cheese factory, where I bought some sweet tamarind chutney, and a few miles after that we stopped at a fruit stand where we bought some wonderful cherries.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside table and were trying to make sandwiches on the table when a swarm of sand flies appeared. These are nasty little things that seem to numb your skin before they bite you (actually, I think they chew on you). The bites itch like mosquito bites but will settle down after a day or two, and then the itching flares up again. We became much better about wearing bug spray after our first encounter. When we left the area, we watched a young couple set up their tent for the night—boy was I glad that we were staying in a motel.

We continued our drive, which took us past Lake Hawea and then Lake Wanaka. These two lakes are very close to each other. We were now moving into a more mountainous area so the foliage became denser, and we began to see some small waterfalls. We stopped at the “Gates of Haast” to take a few pictures before driving over the one-lane bridge, and then we stopped at Fantail Falls for a nice photo op. We arrived at Haast and checked into the Heritage Park Motel.

The next day was glacier excursions. The road to Fox Glacier was along the ocean, and we stopped at Knight’s Point where we were able to see much of the coast. A few miles down the road we came to a detour because a large rock slide had closed the old road. The boulders were so large that they just built a new road around them. At Bruce Bay we stopped to enjoy the beach with the crashing surf, and as we drove away, we noticed a long row of cairns that people had built beside the road using rocks from the beach.

Fox Glacier was the first one on the drive, and we decided to drive up the Glacier View Road in order to see the glacier, but we missed the actual lookout and ended up walking quite a distance down to the river that comes from the glacier. Here we walked over a long swing bridge to the other side. At one point there were about 12 people on the bridge, and it was bouncing up and down and was a bit unnerving. We were then on the Glacier Access Road, so Steve decided that he would walk back to get the car and then return to pick us up. We drove up and parked ad then walked a short distance toward the glacier where we stopped to take some pictures. The glacier was beautiful with small waterfalls coming down the mountain sides, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We drove into Fox Glacier (a town of 258 people) and ate lunch at the Cook and Saddle Café and then drove the 25 kilometers to Franz Joseph.

The town of Franz Joseph has a population of 321 and is another quaint place. We stayed at the Glacier Gateway Motel that had a view of the glacier (hence the name); unfortunately, most of the mountain was covered by clouds. After we unpacked, we drove up the road to the Franz Joseph Glacier and stopped on the road to take some pictures. It was a short walk from the parking to a viewing area of the glacier. I heard an American speaking so I asked where he was from, and he said Colorado. This, of course, began a wonderful conversation about New Mexico and Colorado with Dave and Ann Johnson, and we have since been in contact by email.

We continued on our walk toward the glacier, making it about half way. On our return, we saw several large groups with guides that would be going onto the glacier. We returned to town to buy groceries and then returned to the motel to relax for the day. In the afternoon the clouds cleared from the glacier, so we took off in the car to try to get better pictures, which we did. The next morning when we left for Greymouth, it was again clear so we took a few additional shots hoping that we would get good photos to show the spectacular beauty of this area. Unfortunately, our little digital just doesn't do this justice.

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