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Started this morning at 3.3am after an early night â€“ last
night it started to rain and the sound of the pounding surf and rattle of rain
on the roof of the van helped me to one of the best nightâ€™s sleep I have had in
a long time. Woke up early (I guess I am still jet-lagged) so I decided to head
out early. The destination was Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers. The drive was
great â€“ in an already traffic lite
I got to Franz Joseph glacier at about 8.30am and walked up towards it. I followed the path until it reached the wash out â€“ a vast valley filled with smoothed boulders and a fast flowing torrent. The glacier itself is currently growing but generally it is in decline. I had to walk about 2 miles up river to find the ice itself but what a walk. The mist and rain started to drift in and I walked behind a tour group, seeing them in the distance gave some clue as to the size of the ice-wall â€“ it was astonishing. Also astonishing was the sound made by the melt-water river as it hurled boulders with car smashing force along the river. It sounded like the river groaning. Amazing.
I managed to get right up next to the towering ice and felt very intimidated â€“ if it were to break and fall at that moment I would be crushed with out a trace.
I took some quick shots and even saw some people climbing
the ice-wall, then retreated back to my van. I then drove on to Fox Glacier
(named after foxes glacier mints (humour) ) but decided not to climb up to it.
Instead I did a recognisance of
A 6 am start this morning and when I woke up it was freezing in the van. This was a good sign as it meant no clouds. I got dressed and had last nights sausages for breakfast, washed and then headed straight back to Matthesons lake for my photo call. It was pitch black when I got there so I am pleased I did a reconnaissance the day before and using my cell phone as a torch I made my way back around the lake to where I had been. As I made my way along the dark, tree shrouded path I noticed that the way was lit by thousands of glow worms â€“ it was stunning and I was the only one there to enjoy it. Even being careful I managed to slip once and grazed my knee. I set up the camera and took a few star shots.
Then I hit the road south â€“ taking pics all the way as I saw amazing coastline and gorgeous crystal clear lakes. There were some places that I thought I might camp at until I got out of the van, at which point my own personal cloud of midges descended and tried to eat me. Point to note, buy insect repellent! The sun was with me most of the way and it was only as I arrived in Queenstown that the clouds came in. During the journey I saw an area that must have been filmed for the Rohan section of Lord of the Rings and took the alpine road over to Queenstown and at one point was actually above the clouds than now surround me.
Plan for tomorrow is to make it (if possible) to Milford Soundâ€¦fingers crossed
Queenstown to Milford Sound
So I started out at 6am under a very leaden sky and within a few minutes of leaving Queenstown it was raining. A sullen drizzle which fell from a slate grey sky. Wall to wall cloud obscured the vista but I guess this was just as well. The only redeeming feature about the road between Queenstown and Te Anau was the name of the region, North Southland (I suspect I shall regret those words on the way back but I just could not see anything).
The mountains became staggering in their immensity, great snow capped teeth. I had to slow down just to take in the views. Around every twist of the road a new vision of might and majesty. The mountains are with out a doubt the most impressive I have ever seen, and I have seen a few.
If anyone is feeling a little self important then simply drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound and all that will end.
My camera, my words and my enthusiasm simply does not do the drive justice. You must, must, must see this. And then one gets to the Sound itself. Milford Sound is misnamed, it is actually a Fjord but the first European explorers to visit did not know the difference and the name stuck. I booked onto a ship to cruise the sound and was treated to a spectacular I shall never forget. Just when you think the drive there canâ€™t be topped then you see the Sound. The size alone takes your breath away.
I boarded a smallish sightseeing ferry and we headed out into the sound, past spectacular falls and huge rising mountainsides.
This is without a doubt the most truly spectacular thing I have ever seen in my life and has had a profound effect on the way I see myself. So much of what I thought about myself, about what was important, about my plans for the future fade into insignificance due to what I have seen today.
Seriously, if you have two weeks to spare and a thousand pounds that you were going to spend on a fortnight laying on some overcrowded and grubby beach then my advice is donâ€™t waste your life like that.
I have skydived in the Canadian Rookies, I have been into one of the Great Pyramids, I have spent nights as a Bedouin in the desert, I have visited the great tombs of Petra and have been very fortunate in my life to have done these and many other wonderful things , what I did today tops all of that, easily.
You must, must, must come.
Milford Sound to
That evening I struck up a friendship with a pair of
cyclists who were travelling home from the
From there I drove back to Queenstown (and was happily proved wrong about my impression of the route in just the day before, it was stunning under a powder blue sky).
I drove from there to
It is just as well that I took pictures on my arrival as
dawn was a freezing mist shrouded one with no sign of the mountains. I took my
leave and drove from Mount Cook past Lake Tekapo to the town of
Tanmer to Picton
Well, with the waters well and truly taken I headed off
towards Kaikoura. The drive this morning was slightly later in the day, about
7am, as I needed to give the roads a bit of time to defrost. There is some very
cold weather on its way to the
And so here I sit thinking about the last week. From my arrival at Picton, driving thusly; Picton to Greymouth, a journey of wide open river valleys where grape vines bathe in the sun, producing the wonderful New Zealand wines that grace many of the supermarket shelves of the UK at a price that makes the French suspect that there is a pipeline through the center of the earth as it is so low, to the first inklings of the sort of mountains that one will see in the rest of the country. Next was Greymouth to Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, a reminder that coast is as stunning as mountains but that both together is a wonderful experience. Franz Joseph, although shrouded in low cloud gave a demonstration of the power of ice but also of the power of man as the glacier is in overall retreat thanks to global warming, which is being accelerated by our activities (such as driving around in a campervan to see the shrinking glaciers, ironic).
From Queenstown to Milford Sound I shall not forget the impression the building landscapes had on my sense of insignificance in the face of nature. Even now, days later, I am in awe of the surroundings in the south west of south island. The Sound itself a colossus of mountains rising directly from the still waters of the Sound to peaks of around a mile high, ships seemingly pea like in relation to the walls they cruise along. From Milford Sound to Mount Cook a long drive but saving the lovely Magda and Michael a two day cycle (at least) uphill to Te Anau but then the drive back past Queenstown and up into the centre of the island.
Bless you for open and clear roads
Damn you for lack of signage
Bless you for amazing scenery
Damn you for 30km speed limits in empty towns
Bless you for so many stopping places along your highways
Damn you for lack of decent internet connections
Bless you for cheap accommodation
Damn you for being so far from my home
Bless you for Tui Beer
Damn you for â€¦ermâ€¦erm
Bless you for friendly natives
Bless you for helpful police officers
Bless you for wildlife protection that does not impede the enjoyment of the outside
Oh yes, damn you for the All Blacks!
I have left South island a little earlier than I had planned as the forecast is for a very cold spell moving into the Island and so I intend t take a slow drive back to Auckland via Rotorua where I hope to enjoy the thermal springs and see some of the seismic landscape that I didnâ€™t really see the last time.