Daily Archives: April 29, 2017

Take me to the beach!

Our South Island vacation coincides with Easter and Anzac Day, two back-to-back long weekends and a school holiday, and that necessitated more itinerary decisions and prebooking than we’re used to. As it turned out, an overnight stay in Greymouth was kind of a bust and we could easily have driven a few more hours after Franz Josef Glacier to reduce the long drive time the next day. But it is what it is and we set out on our last little bit of territory along the west coast. Boy, did it deliver! 

This is spectacular coastline where mountains meet the ocean and the power of the Tasman Sea is evident in the dramatic rock formations at every headland. It’s beautiful from land but completely inhospitable by sea so we’re happy to be touring in our little Yaris rather than on Escape Velocity. In the interest of time we originally thought to head inland on a more or less direct route to our next destination but friends on Facebook and our B&B host Mary reminded us to continue along the coast to Pancake Rocks, a geological wonder created in limestone through the millennia by pressure and erosion. 

There are blowholes and powerful surges and you could spend hours watching the play of wind and water on rock. The sounds are as dramatic as the sights. 

And then it was time to move on and we turned inland once again for another day of narrow switchback roads. Compared to the US the distances we cover each day are minuscule, but because the Kiwis refuse to destroy their gorgeous landscape by blasting through mountains to build straight roads, our drive time is slow and laborious (for the driver) as we veer left, then right, then left, then right, up and over every hill and dale. Actually, whenever I look over at Jack he’s got a bit of a smile going and I think he’s imagining piloting his old Porsche rather than the little Yaris. In any case, every minute of driving is beautiful with a stunning new vista around each curve. 

After a while we stop taking photos because really, how many calendar-worthy photos of New Zealand can you sort through? 

We arrived at our night’s accommodation late in the afternoon, a tiny cabin right on the beach just outside the boundary of Abel Tasman National Park. We had just enough time to unload the car and check out the channels on the Sky TV lineup before enjoying a sunset bottle of wine on the beach. It doesn’t get any better. 


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When in Greymouth

Today’s agenda seems simple enough on paper. However, Kiwis like to combine tourism with a spot of exercise and after the steep long trek up to Fox Glacier we were taking no chances. An early start seemed prudent. From the car park we could see Franz Josef Glacier off in the distance nestled between twin peaks and it looked like it hadn’t receded as much as Fox Glacier, which is good news. 

The trek started through a beautiful forested path which tumbled down to a stark rock-strewn valley with stunning water falls showering down into a surprising full river of white water. 

The closer we got the more blue ice we could see as if the glacier was lit from within, glowing with an otherworldly blue light. Once you’ve seen this you’ll never forget it. I know I never will. 

Unusual signs began to pop-up as the second semi-permanent phase of the trek along the river bank established itself. More glowing blue ice could be seen as we crept closer toward the steeper meandering third section. In scenery this magnificent and at scale so huge, one seems so insignificant that it feels impossible for a human to walk up this valley to a glacier, as though you’d never get there, but get there we did. Unlike most of our adventures it’s not about the journey, it’s all about the allure, the pull of the blue ice. 

We began to see tiny helicopters shuttling smart people with an “E” ticket up to the top of the glacier to touch time itself. Such is the draw of the blue ice. 

You could while away hours in a kind of hypnotic trance staring up at it, but you won’t. Very cold air is funneling over the ice, down the valley right into your face. So you take your photos and head back down but every time you turn around to steal one last look you stumble on the rocks. 

The trek back down seems to take forever but you eventually get there too. Reluctantly you start the car and drive away, sneaking peeks of the ice as you negotiate the circuitous road out. 

We came down out of the mountains to the deep blue of the Tasman Sea and stopped at Hokitika beach which is chock full of a remarkable amount of driftwood. When we stopped for lunch we noticed every craftsman in town used the wood as their muse.

B&B’s are a bit of a crap shoot. In your mind’s eye (and the website photos) you’re seeing a cute little cottage on a hill, surrounded by a garden with a pergola. You could just as easily wind up with a gone-to-seed unheated creaky bungalow that smells like an old folks home. And what I think constitutes a hot home-cooked breakfast is open to interpretation. Mary met us at the door and we soon had our duffles lugged upstairs. 

When asked what there was to do in Greymouth she gave a little shrug under her pink jumper (dear Escapees you can read that as sweater) and said most of her guests go down to walk on the flood wall or maybe take in a movie at the multiplex. We found the grey in Greymouth descriptive. On the way to the multiplex in town Marce noticed a tiny store that had Croc sandals and one of M’s grand quests was retired. While ringing up the full retail, on the exorbitantly priced plastic crocs I took the opportunity to ask the sales clerk what there was to do in town and after a long pause she shrugged and said maybe a stroll on the flood wall or a movie. At the multiplex we found the usual Kiwi fare, car chases, car crashes, car explosions, Vin Diesel with a half page of dialogue. Pass.

Walking towards what we thought would be the flood wall we came upon the town’s entire history painted on the wall of the local newspaper. 

Up on the flood wall, basking in the golden setting sun, we found an interesting monument to Greymouth’s dead miners. Sobering. Some years were particularly deadly. Miners and floods, the connection escapes me. I didn’t have much more mileage left in me after two glacier treks in a row so we found a nice bar to soak…I mean celebrate another amazing day.


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