Monday, June 6, 2011

Franz Josef Glacier, Arthurs Pass and Pancake Rocks - New Zealand

With relatively sore heads we left Queenstown for Franz Josef Glacier and on the first night we stopped at a DOC site on the way to break up the drive.  There were plenty of places to stop and admire the view along the way and the route was tremendously beautiful.  The place we stopped for lunch was stunning although at one point a local swung by and asked us if we had a tow rope as some tourists had managed to let their camper roll into the lake so we were evidently having a better day than some.

Stopping at a beautiful lake

The long and winding Road

The area where we camped on the way

The misty morning fog
Runaway vehicle ramp

Stopping for lunch

Kate preparing some munchies

We arrived at the glacier in the early evening which, along with first thing in the morning (a lot less likely for us), is the best time to see the glacier as there is much less cloud cover.  The walk is about forty five minutes across the stony plain where the glacier once stood and has now retreated from, during which you can see the icy mountain up ahead.  The walk itself is really nice and you can get close to the glacier but aren’t allowed to venture onto it without an authorised guide for which you would need to book a tour.  We weren’t overly bothered about actually setting foot on it as it was beautiful enough to look at without shelling out although I’m sure the tours are pretty good too.  We were in the vicinity for at least a couple of hours and made our way back just as it was getting dark. 

Franz Josef Glacier

The two of us in the vast area of land carved by the glacier

We stayed nearby so as not to drive too much in the dark which can sometimes be tricky off the larger roads.  Also, the weather is notoriously bad on the west coast as we found out first-hand the next day.  We had only got as far as Greymouth when the wind was nearly blowing us into the next lane and the rain was lashing down.  We thought we would be sensible, get off the road and treat ourselves to a more upmarket campsite.  We relaxed and found time to make some diary and blog updates to see out the rest of the miserable day.  We wanted to do a brewery tour for a local brew called Monteith’s which we both enjoyed the taste of, but unfortunately arrived too late so instead we opted for the pub nearby and spent the money on beer instead.  We enjoyed chatting to a group of locals in the pub who were watching horse, dog and chariot racing on the big screen and placing bets on an a machine so we joined in, won nothing but enjoyed the experience.  As we were already treating ourselves we picked up a rare takeaway Domino’s pizza on the way back instead of cooking ourselves.

The mist setting in

Storm arriving

We had enjoyed our time on the west coast but it was now time to get back to the East where we aimed to do some wine tasting… or wine drinking in the Marlborough region infamous for its Sauvignon Blancs and other whites.  The most convenient route was via Lewis’ Pass, but we had heard that Arthur’s pass was an amazing drive so we headed along this route with the intention of coming back on ourselves.  The route didn’t disappoint.  There were epic views over the hills and valleys along every windy road with drops on some corners that caused my heart to leap into my mouth!  At one viewpoint we were ambushed by Kias, a member of the parrot family which not only ranks among one of the most intelligent birds but for animals in general.  We had stopped off to look over the bridge we had just crossed and the Kias were everywhere, harassing the cars that were already parked and trying to tear off any rubber in sight which fortunately we didn’t have too much of.  When Kate tried to shoo one off the car it simply hopped back a little bit just out of reach completely unperturbed.  We thought they were great so we hung around for a bit watching others pull up and witnessing their bemusement when their hire vehicles became play areas for these imposing winged demons.  They made the strangest of noises, almost like a high pitched cackling which was perfectly in sync with their personalities. 

Arthur's Pass

The bridge we crossed shortly before being ambushed by Kias

The culprit

Many a hire car deposit has been lost

They dared to even have a go at Queenie!

Having now headed back on ourselves we ventured further up the West Coast to the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.  This is an area of land where the rocks have been weathered and eroded to resemble… yep you guessed it, pancakes.  It was grey and grizzly when we arrived at the short walk around this bizarre phenomenon which didn’t look like much at first but as we went round to the area where the blowholes were in full swing it was surreal and spectacular.  The rocks actually look like they have been made from thin flat layers placed on top of each other and formed into artistic shapes.  The blowholes inland are really cool especially when there’s quite a strong wind, waves would enter the open cave and literally blow out a spray of water from the holes in the rock upon the wave retreating.   Having experienced this we headed along Arthur’s Pass, stopping to feed some hungry horses until we stayed at our best DOC site to date, it was a little more expensive but it even had power and indoor cooking facilities.

Friendly/ hungry Weka bird at Pancake rocks

He took but a moment to think about raiding our cupboards

The stack at the Pancake Rocks

The sea spray emitted from the blowhole can be seen on the bottom right

The Pancake Rocks

more of the rocks

The hungry horse got an apple

Rabbits in the campsite

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