05.12.2009 - 05.13.2009 58 °F
SkeeterVM here. We said a reluctant good-bye to Abel Tasman Park and our chilly “chalet” at the foot of the track. The little cabins had amazing views of the Tasman Sea and its big tidal swings, but were clearly built for summer visits. We couldn’t get the temperature above sixty, so found ourselves going to bed at 8pm just to be warm! We headed south in the rain through another massive national park, Kahurangi, but not before a quick stop at our favorite store, The New World Supermarket. We stocked up on Arnott’s Mint Slices, delicious Thin Mint-like cookies, and yummy Copper Kettle Lime and Black Pepper chips. The back seat of the car is now a sea of snack food. Somehow the fruit always manages to sink to the bottom and the cookies and chips float to the top.
We emerged from the rain forest road onto the west coast. Just as we were wondering why everyone had touted the amazing coastal views when all we could see was scrub, we came over the crest of a hill and saw a vast expanse of stormy sea pounding a rocky coastline. This was no sea for swimming, that's for sure. The waves were ten feet high and we could hear them crashing against the shore through the closed car windows.
The rocks along the coastline are enormous, and shaped by the sea into pillars and arches. The most extraordinary are at Punakaiki. The sign over the entrance says “Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.” I mean, who could resist? It’s like the allure of Sea Monkeys, so unlikely and silly-sounding, you just have to take a look. Indeed the rocks at Punakaiki are shaped in rippled layers like a tall stack at Denny’s, but even better, the sea moves though them with such force, it sends spray puffing out of their chimney funnels like steam out of a kettle. Totally amusing!
Looking like soaked sea monkeys, we hopped back in the car and drove another four hours to Hokitika, also on the coast. Hokitika is a small town, known for greenstone, or Maori jade. Hokitika-by-night wasn’t much; we found a nice enough hotel on the beach, but just a couple of restaurants open. We got deep-fried rig (shark!) and mussel patties(a local favorite) at the chip shop (looking as if it had been transported straight from England), and carried our newspaper packets of food back to the hotel to eat. We had an early night with the goal of getting right out of town in the morning, but we were so charmed by Hokitika-by-day, we stayed for awhile. Thu got back from a jog on the beach raving about the view of the sun on the mist-covered water and the piles of driftwood, some shaped by local artists into animals and Maori symbols. So I headed straight out for my own jog. Running along a packed sand beach with the Tasman Sea on your left and the sun shining on towering clouds ahead of you is an amazing life experience. Highly recommended!
We had an egg breakfast in a cute café, waited on by an American girl in NZ on a working holiday (why didn't we do that in college?!), and walked around town for a bit, admiring all the public artworks. We were reluctant to leave Hokitika but wanted to take advantage of the bit of clear weather to visit Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers get a lot of press. The idea of glaciers in the rain forest is pretty boggling, but how could they live up to the hype? They do though. They are a triumph of scale. Just MASSIVE flows of ice, piled up between mountains. A ranger was cutting a flight of steps into Franz Josef and he was a speck—a speck—of red against the wall of blue. Try to find him in the photo below..
After taking dozens of pictures, we hopped back in our Honda Fit, and chowing on snacks, drove the 400 kilometres to Queenstown. I don’t know if I can do justice to the beauty of the drive. The Haast Pass winds through towering mountains, no less gorgeous for being cloaked in gray clouds, the tallest of all the snow-capped and wonderfully-named Mount Aspiring. Mount Aspiring National Park feels as remote as any place on Earth. We saw few cars and no buildings as we drove around endless bends and up and downhill. Then, suddenly, the view opened to the expanse of Lake Wanaka, glowing misty blue in the twilight, mountains packed tight against its shores. Thu said it best, it looked as if the lake was lighting the grey giants around it.
After sixty miles with not a soul in sight, we were relieved to see the twinkling lights of Wanaka and then Queenstown. We got the last room at Coronation Lodge in Queenstown, and then headed out for dinner. Monkfish and leeks for me and roast tomato and pepper soup for Thu, at a sweet little French restaurant called Solera with a lovely, warm wood fire in the fireplace. We decided that we were glad to have travelled north to south. New Zealand just gets more and more beautiful the farther south you go.