Wednesday, April 11, 2007

One-lane roads, pancake rocks and rivers of ice.

One of the funny things about travelling is that, whenever you meet someone, the first thing you ask is where they are from. After that, you usually ask them where they've been travelling. Then you ask where they are going next. Then, after that, you ask them their name... maybe.

This fact was again driven home when we picked up a French hitchhiker as we left Abel Tasman National Park. After dropping her off in a small town about a half hour later we knew that she had been staying in Melborne, Australia, for the last couple months. And we knew that she had been travelling through New Zealand's south island for the last week or so. But, I don't think we ever got around to asking her what her name was.

But, that was also several days and hundreds of kilometers ago.

Crank up the Japanese! We're going on a road trip! ...we have no idea what this switch does, but occasionally we just have to "turn up the Japanese" a bit.

After leaving Abel Tasman, our plan was to make our way down to Queenstown as quick as possible. But, the main problem with that plan was that Queenstown is on the south end of New Zealand's south island... about a twelve hour drive away. So we decided, for sanity's sake, that we'd break it up a bit.

Before getting to our first pit-stop though, I think I should probably address New Zealand's roads for a second. First off, as I mentioned in my last entry, the roads are very windy.

Second, outside of Auckland, we've yet to encounter a road that is over two lanes wide. In fact, occasionally, they can't even manage that. At two points, early into our first day out of Abel Tasman, Sarah found herself navigating the Enterprise along a one-lane road, which was literally chiseled out of the side of a granite cliff. Keep in mind, that's not one lane going in each direction... it's one lane going in both directions. And, as you drive along those one way roads, how are you supposed to know if there is a campervan coming in the other direction? Why, just look at the large, fish-eye mirror mounted on the metal pole perched on the edge of the cliff, of course!

New Zealand is also fond of the one-lane bridge: where one lane is expect to "Give Way" (a common term on the roads of NZ) to the other lane before crossing the bridge. But, if it wasn't enough, on two occasions I drove us across one-lane bridges in which the cars also shared the one lane with a train track. So, one direction should yield to the other direction... unless a train is coming, in which cases I presume both lanes should let the train cross first.

I'll let you decide if Sarah is making that face because a) she can't believe the roads in NZ or b) she can't believe I'm taking her picture at that moment. You decide!

Actually, even though the roads are occasionally hair-raising, they are usually more beautiful than treacherous. And the first leg of our mad dash south was definitely beautiful. First, we twisted our way through scenic, green canyons, the road clinging precariously to a steep cliff over tubbling white-water rivers.

That soon gave way to stormy and wonderous coastines that seemed to take the craggy rocks, weathered trees and sudden rain storms from the Washington coast, and mix it with the lush follage and palm trees of a tropical island.

It was in the heart of this storm that, after about three hours driving, we made our first pit stop: a lunch break at pancake rocks and blow holes of Punakaki. With the rain beating down around us, Sarah and I donned our rain jackets and made the thirty minute hike out to see the famous coastline. Though the blowholes weren't active (it needed to be high tide), the "pancake rocks" were alien and fascinating. The pancake rocks are actually limesone formations created by the combination of ancient sea life and modern day waves. They're nearly impossible to describe, so here's some pictures:

Pancake rocks!

Some stairs carved into the pancake rocks.

The stormy coastline.

Chased back to the Enterprise by the fierce rains, we were on the road again. Three more hours behind the wheel brought us to the village of Franz Josef. The village of Franz Josef is named after the nearby glacier (which, in turn, is named after an Austrian Emporer). It's the main tourist attraction for the area but, road-weary and hungry, Sarah and I knew it would have to wait until morning, since we only had enough energy left to grab a beer and some food at a cozy, lodge-like restaurant before curling up in the Enterprise to watch a movie and fall to sleep.

The next morning, we were happy to find that the rain clouds which were hugging the mountain tops the night before had disappeared, and the day was clear and cool. Eating breakfast and jumping back into the Enterprise, we made the quick drive to Franz Josef glacier.

Now, living in Seattle and having taken our honeymoon in Alaska, both Sarah and I have had plenty of opportunities to see glaciers. But, regardless, it's always impressive to see one of these massive rivers of ice up close and personal. First we were able to hike to a view point to check it out; then we took a short hike to a pond which provided us with some amazing photo opportunities. Check them out!

Franz Josef Glacier.

...reflected in a small pond.

And here we are! Still stylin' in our $3 Alpaca-wool hats!

Next up, we drove 21 kilometers to Fox Glacier. Apparently, in 1872, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir William Fox, named it after himself. Modest one, ain't he. In some regards, Fox Glacier was even more impressive than Franz Josef. Not only because we were able to walk up closer to it, but also because of the large, steep valley it had carved out for itself years ago.

Up close with Fox Glacier.

One of the massive cliffs Fox Glacier has carved out.

But, after just a short visit, we had to hit the road again. Most of the drive went quickly and uneventfully, but toward the end of the drive, we were able to take the scenic drive from Wanaka to Queenstown. Now, when a guide book on New Zealand makes a distinct point to mention that a stretch of road was windy, it definitely delivers. At points, I think that the road actually managed to make turns that exceeded 180 degrees. But, at the same time, it provided us with some truly breath-taking views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables (a mountain range just outside of Queenstown that is, well, remarkable).

A view coming down into the Queenstown area. The really epic vistas always just look boring when photographed.

So, now we are in Queenstown, but I'll save that for a future entry... after we've had a couple days to explore around.

As a final note, I'd like to dedicate this entry to someone:

As most of you know I tend to be a bit of a pacifist. While I do eat meat, I don't hunt and haven't gone fishing in well over ten years. I've only been in one fight in my adult life (a drunk guy attacked me... a story for another day), and generally don't even kill insects (well, except mosquitos). That's why I'm sad to say that today I was driving the Enterprise when I experienced my first vehicle-animal collision (or, rather, Spaceship-animal). We were just a few minutes out of the town of Haast, doing about 110 kilometers an hour, when something that sounded like a feathery hackey-sack hit our windshield. Unfortunately, the road was too narrow and windy to stop and see if the poor little guy survived. But, hopefully, he or she had a quick and painless trip to birdy heaven.

And so, I dedicate this entry to that little bird. May the afterlife's birdfeeders be overflowing with seed and berries, and may its bird-baths be clean and refreshing. RIP.


Tim said...

It looks like it got MUCH colder after you left Abel Tasman. Is that from driving further south or was there just a change in the weather?

Tim said...

It's amusing to see a paraglider in your Queenstown area picture. Are "X-Treme Sports™" activities really so prevalent in New Zealand?!

Sarah said...

Yes! We weren't surprised to run into colder weather on the coast (and in front of big rivers of ice!), but Queenstown went from being nice fall weather to snowy and windy to nice fall weather again since we arrived. Also, Abel Tasman is supposed to be in some sort of protected position so it's almost always sunny, though it does cool down.

And, yes, Queenstown is the "Adventure Capitol of the World" and you can't escape it. We can see bungy jumping from our campground, and the town is filled with young adrenaline-seekers. We prefer to keep our adventures a little tamer.....

The General said...

Hey! There ain't nothin' tame about the Kiwi and Birdlife Park!!