Friday, February 25, 2011

A Whirlwind West Coast Tour

Al's efforts in sending my blog post to the Vancouver Sun were successful; after seeking my permission, they published an edited version to their website, and also linked back to the original here on blogger.

Well, we didn't leave Greymouth at 8am as planned (ha, no one who knows my family will be surprised at that one). It was closer to 9am by the time we finally got everything loaded into the car (how the heck did we manage to amass so much stuff already? My parents don't even have the luggage they brought here, and already they are carrying around a bunch of shopping bags!) and headed south.

Today's ultimate destination was Queenstown, some 535km from Greymouth. It was quite the trek to make in one day, but we broke it up with several stops along the way; not to mention, of course, being treated to the beautiful West Coast scenery of towering mountains and lush green forest.

Around 11am we stopped at Fox Glacier to hike up to the glacier face; from the car park, it was about a half hour walk to the yellow rope barriers 80m from the ice (and signs that strictly intoned us not to go any further due to risk of ice fall, rock fall, surge waves, and any other number of scary-sounding hazards). Having already hiked the Franz Josef Glacier, and having parents who had already walked across a glacier in the Rockies back home, we were quite content to just stand and look at Fox Glacier. Although it is slightly longer than Franz Josef (12km as opposed to Franz Josef's 13km), both have the distinction of being some of the few glaciers in the world to end in a temperate rainforest, only 300m above sea level. The glacier takes its name from Sir William Fox, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who first visited the glacier in 1872. Fox Glacier also has the distinction of moving ten times faster than other valley glaciers of similar size around the world; it has been advancing since 1985, and in 2006 was advancing at rate of a metre a week!

Back in the car, we continued driving up to Lake Paringa, where we stopped for a brief lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, eaten on a very windy picnic bench beside the lake. While we were eating, my dad made the mistake of leaving the car windows down, and about fifty sandflies were lying in wait for us when we returned... I was squishing and swatting them for the next half hour as we drove toward Haast. My dad got bites all up and down his arm; he won't make that mistake with the car windows again!

Driving through Haast Pass was stunning; it was just as beautiful as I remembered it being when I travelled down SH6 with the Stray Bus in November. I forced my dad to stop at Blue Pools, which regretfully due to the later afternoon sun being in the wrong position weren't as blue as I remembered them being when I saw then with Stray, but still proved to be a nice walk through the beech forest and down to the Makarora River.

What was a stunning blue colour, however, was Lake Wanaka; the day I passed through it had been cloudy, but today we were able to get some beautiful shots of the bright blue sky and towering mountains, and after travelling through "The Neck" we also marvelled at the jewel-tones of Lake Hawea.

I think my dad really got into the driving today; open road (highway) here in New Zealand has a speed limit of 100km/h, but the narrowness and windy nature of SH6 really requires that one drive far slower and with extreme caution. Well, my dad drives with caution, but the slower part kind of got thrown out the window... we were racing around some of those corners!

We made it to Queenstown around 6:45pm this evening; the hostess here at Butterfli Lodge knew of our experience in Christchurch and was extra welcoming to me, commenting on how we likely just wanted to have a nice relaxing evening free from stress or travel. We walked down the hill into the hubbub of Queenstown's nightlife (just rolling out of bed at 8pm), and after a little wandering (including a look at the TSS Earnslaw, which we will be sailing on tomorrow) settled for dinner at an Italian restaurant called Avanti, where my dad ordered a bottle of red merlot, and I had two glasses, and am now very sleepy and in need of bed. As such, I will end this here, have a shower, and then hit the sack. Goodnight!


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