Sliding Down the West Coast

Kath in Abel TasmanOK, I finally have a complaint about New Zealand. This place completely desensatizes you to beauty on a scale I’ve yet to experience before. Everywhere you look is a postcard, every sunset the best you’ve ever seen, every beer the tastiest, and every walk breathtaking (in more ways than one). As hard as we try, the photos can’t possibly capture it or begin to do it justice. We will just have to be happy with the images in our heads and the memories we are gaining, as well as urge others to go, because words and pictures aren’t enough.

Lake WanakaWe are currently in Wanaka, which, like most places in New Zealand, can be pronounced incorrectly 3 differnet ways and only correctly once. The correct way is Wa-na-ka, with all of the A’s sounding like “ahh,” in case you are wondering. Wanaka is on the side of a lake, appropriately named Lake Wanaka, and it is surrounded by a couple of different mountain ranges, including Mount Aspiring, the tallest mountain in New Zealand other than Mount Cook. You can be sitting on the banks of the lake, warming in the sun, with the waves lapping at your feet, and out in the distance is a snow- and ice-topped mountain peak, just at the horizon.

Pancake RocksYesterday began with a trip up the coast, north of Greymouth, to the Pancake Rocks, an interesting three-dimensional sculpture slowly being sculpted out of the limestone by the sea. The formation is called Pancake Rocks because that is exactly what it looks like: a very tall stack of pancakes (minus the syrup, of course). As the water rushes in during high tide, it sounds like a locomotive on the tracks as it crashes on the walls and throws spray in the air. From a distance, when you approach the formation through thick folage, it sounds like a creature is beating on the ground below with an irregular thud, trying to break free. Lucky for us, we got away just in time, down the coast toward the Frank Josef and Fox glaciers.

kath and truk at Franz Josef GlacierWe elected for a short trip at the glacier sites, as we wanted to be in Wanaka for the night, but a few hours proved to be long enough. Still, they were well worth the trip and long walks up the hills to approach each glacier’s terminal face. The glaciers have retreated quite a bit over the past 250 years, and they seem like they will continue retreating for some time, melting more ice than what is forming at the top of the mountains. Still, it was cool (literally) to see what millions of tons of ice could do to solid granite. At the Franz Josef, we just took in the view from a distance. However, at the Fox, we moved right up next to the terminal face. Almost a little too close. Those signs noting extreme danger weren’t kidding. A rock the size of our living room chair fell about 40 feet to the stones at the bottom of the terminal face while I was about 25 feet away. The sound was, well, extremely scary. And all the way back to the car, I kept hearing the boulders turning over in the stream that runs away from the glacier from the force of the rushing water, and I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking a massive block of ice had broken free and was rushing down to crush me. But the overall effect of being next to the glacier was like standing next to a giant ice cube. A very scary, noisy, gigantic, dirty ice cube.

We learned a valuable lesson when arriving yesterday evening in Wanaka: Do not arrive in a New Zealand town on a Friday night in the summer without booking some accomodation in advance. Katherine tried to get me to book, but I got distracted and never got around to it, and, well, there was “no place in the inn” as they say. We finally found a small cabin room in a holiday park on the edge of town, and we have booked most of our rooms for the rest of the trip.

Beer TourWe took a very cool trip to the Wanaka Beerworks today to see how they brewed their very natural, fresh, delicious beer. The tour was excellent, and we really enjoyed talking to the owner/brewmaster, Dave, about what it takes to make a microbrew that can do battle with the giants of the NZ brewery industry.

Tomorrow, we are headed into Fiordland, the extreme southwestern part of New Zealand, a World Heritage Area that we have heard more than one time on this trip is “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.” We are looking to check out that claim for ourselves, but if the drive down the coast from Greymouth to Wanaka is any indication, they may be right.

We probably won’t be able to write for 4-5 days, as we will be in places without good Internet access. In fact, one place we are going told us: “Bring cash and food, and be sure to fill up your gas tank before you show up.”

More photos of this region of New Zealand here 

One thought on “Sliding Down the West Coast”

  1. As soon as I read Wanaka, I new I pronounced it correctly. Sort of an Upstate New Your Indian sound. You blog is great-keep it up!

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