4th to 7th October 2011
Our Coach Captain
Moving onto my second Magic driver, we met Soap (apparently because he is so clean – or so he says). However, don’t call him a driver, he is our Captain, and our bus is a coach, nicknamed Snowflake as she has no markings on her yet. In fact he even has his own theme song (pilfered from an Aussie artist), everytime we hear the word “captain” we have to shout out SOAP! . All rather amusing and gets everyone in the right mood. He also plays games along the way and hands out small bars of soap to the winners.
As we headed towards Greymouth we crossed over Hope Saddle and marveled at the inversion fog covering the valley. We are now heading into the West Coast of New Zealand, famous for its friendly residents and laid back attitude. We also stopped at Cape Foulwind, named by Captain Cook after he was blown off course and gazed down at the fur seals. Greymouth is a required stop over and we all planned to head into town for the Monteith’s Brewery tour.
Our captain stopped at the lookout to show us a feat of human engineering. The road that has been cut into the mountain. It was only wide enough for a single vehicle and just barely high enough not to take the paint off the top of lovely Snowflake the coach. As we walked along the route, Captain Soap drove through and met us on the other side.
Just outside of Greymouth we had a speedy 30min stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.
The rocks were formed their pancake like appearance after immense pressure was exerted on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and sediments millenia ago. The subsequent erosion has created these stacks and also have numerous blowholes that can be quite impressive during high tides.
After getting ourselves reasonable settled and dressed warm, we headed out to grab the complimentary taxi to the brewery. As the brewery was going through and overhaul you don’t actually get to go through it. But you pay $25 and watch a video then get to enjoy some samples and finally a dinner at a local diner. The video was informative, the samples were non stop. Our “guide” was fantastic and full of jokes. He sampled each of the main Monteith line, but let us keep refilling our glasses with the one we preferred if we weren’t too into the other beers. I focused on the apple cider, wish they had had the pear cider on tap though. Then we all got a chance to try and pour. Good fun and we were all pretty sozzled by the time we left to dinner.
As some of you who have kept up with this blog from the beginning will remember, my bag was attacked and made holy by mice in Australia. This morning I woke up and went to get some breakfast, rather confused as to why my food bag seemed to be leaking its contents as I walked… Yup, the mice struck again and managed to get into 2/3’s of my food. Bugger it all!! I went and told reception and their response was:
“mmmm will have to put the cat in that room then”. Ahhh yes this is Greymouth!
Panning for Gold
After discovering holes in my food, we packed up and hopped on Snowflake to head into Franz Josef. Our little stop along the way was the town of Ross, famous for its gold reserves. The big companies have been making yearly offers to move the town 2km down the way, moving the actual houses, paying each resident double and giving them a share in the mine. But change comes slowly to the West coast and each had been turned down, although the vote is getting closer.
We stopped at the wee information center and I decided to “pan for gold” for $10. I thought we were going to go to the stream, but they had a set up outside the center for those on a time limit. It is actually a lot harder than you think and you have to be sure to keep your fingers out of the water as the oil makes the gold flakes float. But eventually I managed to slosh out all the rocks and discover the flakes at the bottom, also found a small piece of jade.
Return to Franz
We pulled into Franz around 1pm. The weather seemed ok, and I had planned to go kayaking. But I was seriously in the dumps. Felt really tired, still cranky after the mouse incident and in general just being a grumpy sod. I went down to check out the kayaking and still couldn’t decide. I was staying at Montrose Backpackers, where Andre and I had stayed before, so I went to Arlene (the Scottish Manager) and asked her opinion, she looked at me and said exactly what I needed: “quit whining and get out there, you will love it”.
I went to pick up some food and take a nap. When I woke up it had started raining and my mood still hadn’t improved. I hate it when I feel like that. But after 2 weeks of being pretty sick and not being able to do anything, I knew that kayaking was just what I needed, I just didn’t want to admit it. I went down and checked in and met Ben our guide. He’s from California and a right hoot. As soon as we got to the lake the bad weather remained over the town. It was beautiful and the minute we were on the water of lake Mapourika, I felt much better. Ben took one look at me and said “yup kayaking works everytime”. We crossed the lake and moved into the kiwi sanctuary. We saw a white heron fishing, you are considered blessed if you see one as they are quite rare. He let us come quite close.
We had to go in single file for the next section as it was through a rather tight waterway in the sanctuary. We also spaced out so that we could see the amazing reflections caused my the mirror like qualities of the water. At times I couldn’t tell where the path turned to steer and had to ask my partner in the front to tell me left or right.
On our way back the heron was still there and still seemed relatively unperturbed by our presence. Returning across the lake the weather remained clear and calm and it even seemed to have improved over the town.
On the way back it looked like the running of the bulls. One of the local farmers was moving is herd, down the only road in town.
Met our fearless kayak leader for a beer that evening then headed out for an early night as the bus leaves at 7am the next morning.
The next day we headed out early with a stop at another small glacier town, called Fox Glacier. We picked up a few and then went to walk to the scenic view of Lake Matheson, our driver… sorry I mean captain, was Soap again and he played his theme song and we all sang along. One chap won a small bar of soap for best singing (he was not overly impressed).
Soap had expected the whole return trip to see the lake would take a total of 30min, giving us another 30min to relax and grab a cup of very expensive coffee at the cafe. Turns out it was 30min one way, so we all did a fairly brisk walk way too early in the morning. But the view was stunning and I saved myself some money on the very expensive coffee.
The drive today was absolutely stunning as we headed along the west coast. There were a number of breathtaking lakes along the way.
The coach was continuing with our captain to Queenstown, but a large number of us were hopping off in Wanaka. Said to be a smaller version of Queenstown, it is a very quaint village on the shores of a stunning lake. We were staying at the Purple Cow backpackers and loved it immediately, from the views out of the main window
To the cat named Smokey, who was known for his rather disgruntled personality, unless you had food.
Sun bathing in Spring???
The temp was barely 15C, but it felt way warmer and Amy, Amelia, Pompom (aka Tom) and I found ourselves sunbathing on the shores of the lake. All too soon someone had the idea to run in and take a dip. It was bloody freezing but hilarious at the same time.
We spent the rest of the day walking around town, picking up some food and then sitting and talking pretty much all night. It was great fun. Then it was time for bed and a bit of a sleep in the next morning, as the bus only picked us up at 1pm.
My good deed
That morning we went and hunted down some face paint at the $2 store and then the others went hiking. I headed back to the hostel to work on my blog. Well I was there I noticed a guy holding something that look like an animal. It turned out to be a small bird, possibly a finch. He and his girlfriend had found it sitting on the side of the road. It looked dazed and had most likely been hit by a car or flown into a window. They were attempting to give it milk. I recommended sugar water and a dark box to keep it calm. It seemed to improve and didn’t have the death claws so there was hope. But when the bus pulled in a few hours later it was still relatively out of it and not ready to be released. I hope that it recovered after I left.
Back on the road again
All packed and boarded we headed out of Wanaka on our trusty Magic stead and off towards Queenstown.