The Kiwis have a sense of humor with their road signs.
This morning we left Queenstown at a relatively early hour (the
sun had yet to rise) and began our journey toward the Fox and Franz Josef
Zealand is a country of only four million people in the
same land area as the British Isles or Japan. Of the 4 million, only 25% live on the South Island where we currently are visiting. And almost 40% of those people live in the Christchurch metropolitan
area. Thus, to say that the land through
which we passed is rural is a bit of an understatement. Though the Kiwi map may be dotted with a
decent number of towns, these places are often no more than a collection of
houses, a “dairy” (i.e., a convenient store that usually sells petrol, too), a
café (that seemingly always displays the most enticing pastries), perhaps a
government building, and, in many instances, some reason for tourists to stop –
whale watching, gold panning, sheep shearing… you name it.
Catching Sheldon in the act.
Speaking of those sort-of-white critters, sheep are far more
prevalent than people. Field after field
of sheep can be seen in any direction on most drives through the countryside. Joining the rams and ewes are a collection of
goats, cows, and deer. Agriculture is
big business around here.
The roads, while in good condition, are relatively narrow,
and in nearly every instance, bridges shrink to one lane no matter the size of
the chasm over which they loom. Guardrails
do not exist except (if you’re lucky) in the most precarious of
situations. What one might loosely term
as “interstate” is really a two-lane country road. Traffic is so light that passing lanes are
simply unnecessary. Oh, and to throw one
more wild card in the mix, the Kiwis, too, drive on the left side of the road.
Just like the previous two mornings, we wound our way along
hillsides and around river bends.
An amazing view of the Fox Glacier.
breakfast, we stopped in Wanaka
, a decent sized village that was the gateway to
the Haast Pass
, our main driving route for the
first part of the day.
Sheldon and I
tried the French toast with cinnamon, syrup, bananas, and bacon (the Canadian
version), and we promptly decided that the dish was second only to Tommy’s
French toast special back at Junior’s!
For lack of a more precise geologic description, the Haast Pass
is the continental divide of the South Island. Just as one would find some spectacular
scenery along the divide in North America, the
same such wonders are prevalent here… particularly waterfalls! Our photographs, while stunning, really
cannot capture the true beauty of the Pass.
Fantail Falls, the Haast Pass.
Three places are of particular note.
Our first stop along the highway (I would say “scenic highway,” but in New Zealand
that is the epitome of redundancy
for all thoroughfares hold the promise of stunning views) was the Fantail Falls
The plummet, while lovely, was overshadowed by the strikingly clear
water at its base.
The stream’s water
possessed both an amazing transparency, which allowed us to see directly to the
creek bottom and the scores of worn rocks and pebbles, and a terrific blue tint
that Miller appropriately dubbed “liquid sapphire.”
A short skip down the road led to the Gates of Haast. A single lane bridge rests above the Gates,
which start at a high point
and then tumble down a gorge, turbulently churning around and careening around
boulders the size of small homes.
This is what happens to a person who stands under falling rock.
even the most skilled and daring whitewater kayaker in the world would dare
tackle the raging torrent, but for sheer and absolutely serene beauty, the
Gates are hard to top.
Finally, we stooped at the Thunder Creek
Falls, a 92-foot sheer
vertical drop of water just steps from the main road. Once again, words fail to describe the
sublime splendor of places such as this.
The whole drive through the Haast Past featured a smorgasbord of
waterfalls and towering trees, accented by snow-capped peaks. Remember that we are visiting New Zealand at
the onset of winter. While fall colors
bravely cling to a tree here and there, for the most part, the coldest of
seasons is already present.
A one-lane bridge. They are all over the NZ countryside.
our morning lows hover between 28 and 32.
We have an outside air thermometer in the car, and the lowest
temperature I have seen thus far has been -4 Celsius, or 25 Fahrenheit.
And that was well after the sun rose.
The afternoon highs have been in the mid 40s
to upper 50s.
Those temperatures should
moderate somewhat once we hit the North
And, yes, we have seen frost and snow up
close and personal.
We have also seen ice… and plenty of it. After the drive through the Haast Pass,
we skirted up the road to twin glaciers, the Fox and Franz Josef. Both glaciers are currently retreating, but
as recently as five years ago, the latter of the two underwent an aggressive advancement.
We hiked up to both of them.
To get there we waded through extensive
temperature rainforests, which seemed out of place in the midst of the blue ice
and cool winds.
The enormity of a glacier is a bit difficult to
capture. When you approach the massive
flow of ice from afar, you see tiny specks of color in front of the
glacier. Those are people. Then you realize just how mammoth these
marvels of nature are. The winds sweep
off that ice and create a climate cooler than the valley the glacier
carved. Despite the temperature, though,
the views are worth it. In addition to
the glacier itself, numerous waterfalls spew from the green mountains that
encircle the ice and provide it’s a canal to move. The water is either crystal clear like that
from the Haast River or a more milky green-blue color,
indicative of glacial ice melt water.
Another view of the Fox.
After spending a few hours in the national park with the
twin glaciers, we headed to the seaside town of Hokitika to bed down for the evening.