Friday, May 23, 2008

West over Arthur's Pass

For the first time in quite some time, this blog is coming to you live. I've paid my blog debt and now I'm reporting directly from Franz Josef on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island.

We stayed put in Christchurch for almost 2 weeks, but we couldn't resist any longer. We got into the car this morning and headed over the Arthur Pass. We've been looking west to the distant Alps since we first arrived in Christchurch, but it was only today that we pointed the car that way. After about 5 minutes in the car I mentioned to Letizia that finally being on the move again felt good and in fact moving has become our natural state of being. Staying put, even just for a week or two, was starting to weigh us down.

From coast to coast it's only a little over 200km. The first 70 kms were on the Canterbury Plains, flat and straight, with the foothills of the Alps appearing out of the mist. The second 70km was spend riding out of one valley and into another, each one different to the last. Some were tiny patches of fertile land, perhaps with a lake, others were stony flat badlands, others again with forests, until we reached Arthur's Pass. The rest of the trip to the coast was a steep and scenic descent to the sea. We turned south, lush treefern forests to our left, and the waves of the Tasman to our right. We were heading down to see the glaciers - and walk on them too. From start to finish we didn't pass anything approaching a large town. There were a dozen or more small towns, or collections of houses offering fruit, art or B&B. One sign advertised psychic readings and vegetable soup - an unusual combination that somehow seemed to work (something fulfilling, that also leaves you feeling full).

Our base for the next two nights is a small, cozy and cheap place called Glowworm Cottages in the centre of Franz Josef. For a room with four bunks, a kitchenette and an ensuite the total price for the 2 days comes in just under 100 euros. After that we'll head back up North to check out the Pancake Rocks, do a little panning for gold, and hopefully have the time and weather to check out the Devil's Punchbowl (thanks for that tip, Paul C).

Franz Josef was our first choice for a glacier walk, but unfortunately there's an age/height limit that Sara couldn't quite pass, not even on her tippy-toes wearing a pointy hat. A little further down the road, Fox Glacier doesn't have such requirements. But apparently the hike that leads up to the ice itself presents its own challenges - narrow trails with steep drops for example. We'll see if the Adrenalin Forest experience has prepared Nina and Sara (and Letizia and me, for that matter).

The town of Franz Josef is probably a great place if you don't have kids, but the only thing to do around here other than climbing a glacier is going to the pub. I think (hope) the glacier experience will be a positive one, but if you come here with kids, don't stay more than one night.

More tomorrow, if we survive the hike on the ice.

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