We woke up to the all too familiar sound of rain and with no visible prospect of it letting up anytime soon. We bundled our wet tent in the car and set off south of Hokitika, hoping the rain would clear to allow us to explore. We had a brief respite to visit Lake Mahinapua, where a restored steam boat, used during the gold rush to transport goods up and down the lake and connecting waterways, is exhibited. You may have noticed that we have a love of restored historic transport, James can trace his back to many trips to the York Rail Museum accompanied by his less than thrilled sister.As we headed south the rain continued to lash down and we stopped occasionally to dart out of the car at viewpoints to take in the misty views.We had originally planned to do the Hari Hari coastal walk but the downpour decided us against it, but it did mean that we stopped in town of Hari Hari and spent an instructive 15 minutes learning about Guy Menzies, the first person to fly across the Tasman Sea. The town is understandably proud of his crash landing in a swamp nearby.
Luckily for us, as we approached Franz Josef Glacier, the rain had stopped and we hurriedly pulled in to do the glacier viewpoint walk. The actual location of the viewpoint varies depending on the conditions of the day and the fact that the glacier moves, we were about 750m away. It was another display of the massive power of nature vs nature, with the glacier coming off the winner and leaving a massive scar across the landscape which, in turn, was slowly coming green again.There is no doubt about it, glaciers are very impressive. They are also ugly. There is a quotation on one of the boards at the viewpoint which essentially says that if Franz Josef Glacier were anywhere other than New Zealand it would be considered to be the most beautiful place in the world (we haven’t been able to find the actual quote anywhere since, disappointingly). The sentiment that New Zealand is full of incredibly beautiful things is one that we are completely in sympathy with, glaciers simply aren’t among those things. Bright colours and dirt do not mix and looking at the blue/brown ice of the glacier was like looking at a ski village at the end of the season, or London 30 seconds after it has snowed.The river running from the glacier was a torrent of grey, leading Caro to observe that it looked like someone was enthusiastically washing out a concrete mixer. Nonetheless, it’s the natural phenomenon that you are there to see and it is absolutely worth it.
As we got back to the car it started to rain with a vengeance again and we opted for another night in a motel rather than pitching the already soaking tent in a storm. We ended up at the Pine Grove Motel in Karangarua which had some sheltered space where we hung up the tent and then retired to our self-contained little cabin to watch TV in bed under a pile of blankets.
The following morning Caro enjoyed her porridge in bed before we packed everything up, the tent blessedly dry, and made our way back out in to the continuing deluge. Our first destination was Haast passing through Bruce Bay and the Knight’s Point Lookout on our way. These places are absolutely beautiful but very difficult to capture with all of the mist and rain.Haast itself is a strange place seemingly made up entirely of motels and a visitor centre and we made a swift exit in the direction of the Jackson Bay Road, or The Road to Nowhere, as it is also known. The drive isn’t what we would describe as scenic as for a large section of it you are driving through a tunnel of trees, but it is certainly dramatic and one of the few places that was probably made more impressive by the unfortunate weather. The tunnel would fill with mist and then empty again suddenly, you could easily have been driving in to Narnia.Just as we were starting to think that we had been in a tunnel for a while we emerged on to a coastal road with ominous rockfall signs all along the side of the road. The weather had lifted slightly and allowed us to really appreciate the remainder of the drive to Jackson Bay and the end of the road. We have determined that we need to purchase a theasaurus and broaden our vocabulary for describing beautiful things. Jackson Bay is simply stunning with its natural harbour surrounded by mountains.We sat on the bonnet of the car and ate our sandwiches watching fishermen launch their small boats.
We were a couple of days ahead of our planned schedule, the rain having taken some of our outdoor pursuits of the agenda, and we decided to head in the direction of Wanaka and Queenstown a couple of days early. Caro had spent 3 months in Queenstown on gap year number one and wasn’t keen to be spend any longer there than absolutely necessary, which certainly meant not sleeping there. We settled on Hawea as a much quieter alternative and worked our way through Mount Aspiring National Park and the photo opportunities that it afforded.We stopped in town to stock up on food and then headed out of civilisation to Kidds Bush Reserve Camp, a DOC campsite on the shores of Lake Hawea. Once again, the local farm life was not keen to let us reach our desired destination.It was a marvellous spot and a bargain at NZD8 each per night. We got ourselves set up quickly and settled down to an afternoon of blog writing and reading our books. We were so engrossed in what we were doing that we very nearly failed to look up…and realise that we were in paradise.It was raining in paradise the next day and we decided to leave the tent where it was and go exploring elsewhere. Our plans were foiled by livestock again, this time a large flock of sheep being moved down the road, corralled through the rain by extremely well-trained sheepdogs and two pick-up trucks.We were going to Queenstown, which James rightly insisted that he had to see and Caro assured him he wouldn’t like. It turns out that we were both right and a brief tour of town to see the lake, the huge queue outside Ferg Burger and to search out Caro’s old digs from her ski instructor course days was sufficient to tick the box and we beat as hasty a retreat as is possible in Queenstown traffic. For anyone who hasn’t been there, the town is made up of shops selling sports gear, companies offering extreme sports activities and the odd bar and restaurant. On the plus side, we had seen a busker with a singing dog so that makes it all ok.
Our next stop was Wanaka, which is also entirely geared towards tourists but with marginally less intensity and it feels slightly more like people may actually live there. We strolled around and were there in time for the Thursday evening market where we bought some excellent Manuka honey covered walnuts, the ultimate middle class snack.
Back at camp it was raining again and we spent a productive but slightly miserable three hours sat in the car. In between writing blog posts and researching the next stages of the trip, Caro mused out loud about the possibility of booking flights to Fiji for the next three weeks because the rain had just gotten too much for her. Here’s the thing; the challenges of rainy camping aside, a majority of what we had planned for NZ was outdoor and whilst it didn’t require clear skies, it did require the assurance that you wouldn’t catch hypothermia.
The rain did let up in the evening and a walk around the lake did much to lift our spirits and remind us why we were doing what we were doing. The evening concluded with a fairly poor display of stone skimming, made even worse by trying with our left hands.