End of the World
Franz Josef Glacier - Jackson Bay - Wanaka - Queenstown
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When we wake up in ‘Hoki’ the sun is shining and the sky is radiantly blue. With the experience of the last week I’m a little suspicious of these radiant blue skies in New Zealand and expect thunderclouds any moment. In the camper kitchen we meet a man that immigrated with his parents to New Zealand, he was only 7 years old. His wife and two children speak Dutch, his wife who is a real ‘Kiwi’ speaks it even better than her husband, the two children are difficult to understand. But they compensate this with lots of enthusiasm when they give us an impression of ‘Puzzling World’ in Wanaka, which we have to visit. ‘Don’t forget to visit the toilet!’, they add. The wife adds we certainly have to visit Wanaka, beautiful situated and quiet, the place where New Zealanders go for their active holiday while the tourist from overseas visit Queenstown. OK, so we have to visit both Wanaka and Queenstown. The former Dutch now Kiwi man tells us that many Dutch people immigrate to New Zealand, something to do with the beautiful nature, lots of space and the idea of freedom. But most Dutch people return to Holland, sometimes even after many years. Especially the cultural differences give problems and personally I think that to live in New Zealand you have to be a real self supported person, as said before care for either fishing, old cars or maybe bowling and don’t be to much interested in the rest of the world. The rest of the world ceases to exist when you are in New Zealand, which is not unpleasant at first but after a month even I – who never reads a paper - started to miss the constant flow of news and the feeling that you are part of this world. In New Zealand Australia is the only near by country, and even that is 2000 kilometer away. What happens in the US and in Europe is not very interesting for people in New Zealand and the local TV stations have news bulletins about run away cats and the last murder, the inspector is interviewed and anybody watching could think New Zealand is the world number one in murders in stead of the total opposite: nothing ever happens here so the reporters are quite happy with the occasional murder.
In case you forgot - we are still sitting in the camper kitchen in Hoki. The sun is shining as I told and when I say I don’t trust this good weather, the wife of the Dutch immigrate looks at the sky and predicts that it will stay good weather for the whole day and that we are very lucky and will have a beautiful view of the Franz Josef glacier and the further mountains. She is very happy for us and although I don’t believe her weather prediction, her enthusiasm is contagious. I’m suddenly in a hurry to move, I really want to see this spectacular view. We part as the best of friends and drive in the direction of the glaciers. On the way we see beautiful lakes: lake Mahinapua, very quiet and lake Ianthe, which we see shining dark blue far below us but somehow very close, the emerald woods before it and ice topped mountains behind it, mirroring themselves in the lake.
The Franz Josef glacier and its neighbor the Fox glacier are famous, because nowhere else in the world at this latitude you can find a glacier as close to the ocean. You can take a swim in the ocean and half an hour later walk in the snow. Australia I called a land of extremes, but this is also true of New Zealand, which lacks the endless space of Australia but with its high mountains has everything as it were scaled down, propped in between the peaks. Both Australia and New Zealand are extremely beautiful and are a demonstration of the force of nature. In New Zealand you can’t even close your eyes for a little nap while driving (in Australia you have to keep your eyes open when you drive yourself of course, although on roads like the one crossing the Nullabor Plain you can drive half asleep), the landscape changes continually.
We drive to the lookout place and I photograph the glacier, the weather is clear indeed and the view is good, but I would like to get closer. The ice looks so unreal and is still far away. Some centuries ago the glacier was much closer although the glacier in the last 30 years has advanced 1.5 kilometer. So the next day we decide to walk to Roberts Point, from where we will have a nice view over the glacier. We washed our clothes and talked with other campers, so it is already a bit late – 3 o’clock in the afternoon – when we start our 5 hour walk. The walk is of the category Jac calls a ‘challenge walk’, although in his opinion every walk I pick is a challenge walk. I say we only have to walk to the point where we have a view over the glacier and then we will return.
We walk through rain forest, very thick, moss-grown and dark. We cross three foot-bridges, one of them only accessible for one person at a time, slowly swinging over deep ravines. The path is difficult, we have to climb over big stones all the time. After crossing the third bridge we should be able to see the glacier, but we are in the middle of the rain forest and see nothing. We meet some people, everybody goes in the other direction except for one young man, overtaking us and disappearing quickly after the next turn of the path. It is getting late, the climb is very heavy and we have no idea how far we are at the moment. We discuss going back. Of course we want to go on, but Jac worries we will be back after dark. And it isn’t exactly the first time we have to worry about getting back just before dark… So we will continue just till the next turn of the path. And then it goes up again. OK, so not more than another 10 minutes. Thirty minutes later the path turns towards the light and suddenly we are out in the open, the light streams into our faces and the young man who overtook us hours earlier welcomes Jac: ‘You made it!’. He is very happy since he spent the last hour up here waiting for us, so we could take his picture. Jac needs some time to wipe away the sweat and then the young man takes a picture of Jac and me in front of the glacier, great! The view is fantastic but the way back is even more difficult than the way up, the path is very slippery because of the moss and the many small streams that cross the path. When we are almost back Jac gets a bit nonchalant and loses his footing on a surprising slippery stone. His trousers are black and his back aches. This doesn’t improve his temper, which already dropped to an all time low. Later on he will give this walk as the one example of a very interesting and just not to heavy walk. But now I worry about getting something to eat in time, we are walking for six hours, it is getting very dark, not surprising since it is almost nine o’clock and the restaurants in New Zealand close very early. Anyway, after Jac changed his trousers we are just in time to pop into a restaurant. Jac is very tired and has a lot of pain in his back – his weak place - and everywhere in his body, he feels so bad that we even have a nice conversation and I feel very guilty.
The next day every muscle in my body screams. I have trouble leaving the tent. Jac feels all right, maybe a little bit of pain in his feet because of his terrible shoes (his walking shoes have less grip and a thinner sole than his sandals). I have a bit of difficulty moving my legs but wisely refrain from mentioning this.
The weather is still very good and we drive to the South. Before going up-country, we drive on to the isolated Jacksons Bay. We cross a big river and the view is wonderful. I step out of the car and walk back over the tiny platform next to the road. The balustrade is very low and I feel as if I could fly away, to the ocean or the other way, to the high mountains. Jacksons Bay is very isolated, one cafeteria, ten houses, thirty boats, a long pier. A couple of tourist and fishermen are walking around. This must be the end of the world.
We spend some time relaxing before we drive back to Haast, with 25 kilometers the nearest by city but don’t drive to fast or you’ll miss it. From there we drive up-country via Mount Aspiring National Park to Wanaka. Mount Aspiring is imposing with enormous overcast hills and mysterious lakes.
Wanaka is a surprisingly small place adjacent to a big lake, lake Wanaka. There are a lot of camping, some of them very full. We visit them all and choose carefully, only to end up with our first choice. The city is not very imposing but the water is – like everywhere in New Zealand – the popular part. People spend their day on the beach, sunning, water skiing, racing with their speedboat, pulling inflatable cushions with children behind them, who desperately try to hold on to their bumping seat. Another hobby is duo para-gliding, a couple consisting of an instructor and a tourist, pulled up by a speedboat. Nice to watch, in a short time the para-gliders are high above the lake where they float around for fifteen minutes, and then with dangerous swinging maneuvers they land on a small grassland of no more than 20 meters square, close to the takeoff place where brave new customers are waiting.
We visit the recommended ‘Puzzling World’, which is indeed very special. The building looks already very special and a quick thee in the cafeteria takes about an hour, since I try to solve one of the puzzles distributed on the tables of the cafeteria. The Puzzling World specializes in puzzles and in optical illusions. We try to walk around in the house where the floor and ceiling are not parallel with the world and we spend an hour in the 3D maze, finally very motivated by the dark clouds to locate the last of the four towers and the exit. Before we leave we visit the toilets, a ‘must’ according the children we met in ‘Hoki’. I won’t spoil your pleasure, but be sure to visit the toilets in the Puzzling World! Anyway, I usually visit the toilets everywhere, which adds a special kind of experience to my holidays.
Queenstown is more tourist, but is also very beautifully situated next to a big lake and in between high mountains. Unluckily the weather is a bit bad, but we find a good camping five kilometer out of town into the mountains and under the trees the ground is not so wet yet, so we pitch our tent without problems. And then it starts to rain for real and it doesn’t stop the next 32 hours. We console ourselves in nice restaurants, first in the center of Queenstown where we find the first good pizza restaurant of the southern hemisphere (according me) and the next evening, when we dine in a very simple café close by, Jac is served the best leg of lamb with mint sauce of the whole world (according Jac).
If you like outdoor sporting New Zealand is a kind of paradise and the center is Queenstown. The choice of activities is impressive: bungy jumping, para-gliding, parachute jumping, water-skiing, jet boating, white water rafting (if you don’t object to crashing with you head against a rock below water level), diving, mountain climbing, scenic flights in a helicopter or airplane, horse riding and even hiking – the only activity that isn’t terrible expensive. We go to watch the bungy jumping at Kawarau bridge, the famous A.J.Hackett Bungy. It is only 43 meters high but very scary above the big river with the seething water below and I’m happy it costs such a lot of money to jump, so Jac and I can safely say it is totally ridiculous to spend 50 euro on a couple of seconds fun (fun???). We discuss all this with a couple of Dutch people we will meet again later on when we visit the North Island. After two months away from home it is nice to speak with Dutch people.
At last the rain stops and we walk around in the small center of Queenstown, a lot of small shops and terraces, very charming. Later on we drive up to the remarkable ski area’s. Suddenly we are high above the small town and the long lake and high above the lower mountains directly around Queenstown. Further away we see ragged mountain peaks topped with snow. Big rivers flow far below us. The country looks as is we fly in an airplane. Which would have been handy to reach our next stop: Milford Sound, an extremely beautiful but not very easy to get to place. More places in New Zealand qualify obviously as ‘end of the world’!
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