After two days of becoming adrenaline junkies, it was time to move on to our next destination – Franz Josef. As we left Queenstown the drive took us up and over a big mountain. The road to the top was continuous bends and at times we were very close to the edge. Once we got to the top, the view was amazing and we could see right across Queenstown and out to the snow topped mountains. It was cold though, so we didn’t stop for long.
Having been driving for a couple of hours, we came across a very random ‘bra fence’. I don’t know what it was in aid of, but I’m curious to how it would have started. Did one random person just find a bra and decide to tie it to the fence, then other people saw it and followed suit? Who knows, but it made for a good photo opportunity.
As the drive went on we continued to be surrounded by various mountains, lakes and amazing scenery. We made a few stops along the way at suggested photo points. One stop we made was at a lake opposite Mount Aspiring. The wind was so strong we could barely stand still and the water was very rough.
We then went on to drive through a rainforest. The roads continued to bend back on themselves and you could never pick up any real speed as just as the road started to straighten out, a big bend came up. At one spot, we saw a car that had ended up in a ditch off the side of the road and two very baffled looking boys. At least they were alive and didn’t go off the side with the sheer drop! Shortly after, we made it Lake Hawea where we were presented with some amazing views.
Along the way we came to a bridge that was over a very rocky stream known as The Gates of Haast. The water was gushing down. These are the times we are grateful for the rain, as it gives a much better flow on the rivers. In Australia, water was so scarce you just didn’t see these sorts of sights very often but in New Zealand they are everywhere.
We continued on and made another stop at Thunder Creek Falls. It was just a couple of minutes walk from the road and flowed into the fast flowing river. We’d seen lots of waterfalls on our travels, but this one just looked to be gushing out of a small hole somewhere between the trees.
After what felt like a really long drive, but was only actually about 4 hours, we finally made it to the Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park. Tomorrow was going to be an exciting day. We were going to visit the Franz Josef Glacier!
We awoke the next day, having had a very disturbed sleep due to the heavy rain that had hit us in the night. Luckily it had cleared up and when we left the van to go for a shower, we were able to see the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. We hadn’t been able to see it the night before, as the clouds were so low. There were just mountains upon mountains all covered in green trees. I was quite dubious about this glacier. Where was it hiding? Nowhere looked cold enough.
We got ready and made the short drive to the glacier car park. The lady at the park had given us a map and recommended two walks for us to do. One that would take us to the glacier and another that would take us to a glacier lake, which would give some great reflections of the glacier in it. We parked up and started the walk. We’d wrapped up warm with layers of tops, scarves, gloves, and hats as we’d envisaged it being exceptionally cold given that we were visiting a glacier. We walked down a path and through some trees for a few minutes and then came out into a big open space. The ground was just rocks and we were surrounded by hills of green bushes with random waterfalls flowing through them. It was an amazing sight, but not quite the ‘glacier’ we were expecting. In the distance we could just about see a snow-covered mountain so we decided that must be where we were headed.
As we started to approach the mountain, we saw people turning back. It didn’t look like anyone was walking any further. When we got to the end of the path, there was a sign that said it was too dangerous to go any further. We looked up into the mountain and could just see some snow at the top. That was it! That was as near to the glacier as we were going to get, unless we paid for a trip with a guide, which would include a helicopter. Needless to say we were disappointed as that was the only reason we had stopped in this town. The sign did also say that 4 years ago the glacier came right down to where we were standing and that 10 years ago it would have stretched right back through the valley that we’d just walked through. Due to climate change, it had shrunk right back. I guess we were just 10 years too late! Feeling disheartened, we made our way back. We still had the walk to the lake to do, so we started on a new trail. By this point we were far to hot with all our layers and ended up stripping down to just our t-shirts. However, just a couple of minutes in, the rain started to come down and the more we walked the heavier it got. Not wanting to repeat what happened to us in Thailand (where Barry’s camera got waterlogged and died) he hid it under his coat and started walking super fast to get to the lake. Before I reached the end of the walk, he was already on his way back and said to me ‘turn back, it’s more like a pond!’ Another disappointment!
One of the joys of driving your home everywhere with you is that you always have a change of clothes. So, once we got back to the van, we were able to put on some dry clothes and continue our journey. We were now headed up the coast and with the weather still wet and windy, the waves were crashing up against the rocks beside us. We were lucky enough that the rain did stop long enough for us to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the Pancake Rocks. I envisioned large flat circular rocks, but when we got there they were actually normal rocks that had lines going all round them making them look like they were all stacked on top of each other. Difficult to explain, but the photos will show you. We’d seen blowholes in Australia and they weren’t what we expected. Here, they were exactly what we expected. As we made our way round the rocks, we heard a rumbling sound, like a dragon. As we approached what was labelled ‘Sudden Sound’ we heard the rumbling again, and then a huge gust of water just whooshed up into the air. Now that was a blowhole! We continued on round the pathway and then came to ‘Chimney Pot’. This time the gap was a lot smaller. As the waves from the sea came crashing into the cave below, the water would spray up through a small crack in the rocks and spray out the top. It truly was a sight to see.
Feeling amazed, we left the Pancake Rocks and blowholes and continued on to our next stop for the night – Charleston. It was just a stop off on the way to Picton where we would be catching the ferry to the North Island. We were the only people staying there and it was a very tiny park – just 5 spaces for campers, but it did us fine for just a stop off. That night, another downpour of torrential rain came, but we managed to sleep through, luckily.
We left Charleston and continued up the Kaikoura Coast, just making one stop off along the way to see a seal colony. This time we made sure that the walk from the car park was not going to be an hour+ journey like we had in Oz. Instead it was just 10 minutes and this time all the seals were laying out on the rocks for us to see. They seemed friendly. One in particular, seemed to like smiling for the camera. As soon as Barry pointed it at him, he looked up and posed. We spent a few minutes watching them as they waddled up and down the rocks and then it was back in the van where we continued our journey onto Picton.