Saturday, February 25, 2006

The West Coast of New Zealand

After Wanaka, we headed west. The west coast consists of a few towns. Most notably: Haast, Franz Joseph/Fox Glacier, and Greymouth. Haast was a drive by. We did stop at a nature center to look around and read about the Fiordland National park, etc. The west coast prides itself on the history of Maori culture, gold mining, coal, and resilency through tough times (not unlike the United States). This was emphasized time and time again in the historical literature.

Driving the West Coast took longer than expected due to the windy two lane road so that took some adjusting to time schedules. We anticipated getting into Franz Joseph a couple hours earlier than we did. No worries, but I was holding off on my latte and was getting a little razzled at the driving. Fox and Franz Joseph (FJ) are really two towns whose sole purpose is to helicopter people up to these beautiful glaciers to hike through them, etc.

Previously, Stacey and I had discussed the Fox/FJ helicopter trip. based on its significant cost i was pretty much like 'no way' but we went ahead and booked it anyway cause it cost nothing to just leave the booking and let it expire. i think stacey was hoping for me to change my mind cause she had heard good things from some other folks. when we got to FJ i was totally caught up in it and the images and was like 'well yeah, heck that looks awesome we should do it' and yeah it costs a bit but looked like a once in a lifetime experience so i was pretty set to drop the change.

However, after camping the night in FJ (top 10 holiday park #2!) it rained on us in the tent the whole night. we got up and caught a breakfast and did some reading in town to decide what to do that day. (again...hoping the weather would change). it looked pretty hopeless, and it also didn't look like it ever really got any better so we settled for a short day hike up to the glacier face, to which the benjamin's were doing much rejoicing in my pocketbook.

so, up to franz joseph we go. in the rain. and more rain. and more rain. so i say 'no, this is dumb, i am getting soaked and its cold, let's go up the hill a bit on this short hike to a rock called spectacle rock or something like that and we'll see what we can see. so stacey agreed (as far as she was concerned, the sooner we got the hell out of this nasty rainy place the better--the weather sucked and there was lots more to see in the north). anyway, we went up the 10 minute hike, i ran to stay warm. we looked at the muddy ice glacier (seen em before, been up mt. st helens about 3/4 times and mt. rainier once). yeah. let's go. so we head to greymouth.

now, greymouth ain't much to look at. really its an industrial town with a little tourist business due to its association with the west coast. but it did have a great backpackers lodge called neptunes we booked a room and got a nice hot shower, cleaned up, and explored town real quick. the folks that run this place are super friendly, super nice, etc. so much so and we liked our digs so much we just camped out for another day to get some sun and catch our breath in a quiet place. we also needed to do our bookings for the north part of the south island (abel tasman area) and spent a morning planning this and an afternoon gettings things done at the tourist bureau called iSite.

hokitika. if i were to go back i might recommend actually staying at the town just south of greymouth we stopped at called hokitika. it had some nice bakeries and cafes and didn't seem as industrial as greymouth. we had already jetted past so we really didn't want to go back and greymouth was a good enough place to hang our hat for 24 hours and get some sun.

overall: if you can get a heli-hike the west coast is worth it. stay in hokitika. we also heard from other travellers that fox actually has a less commercial flair to their guided glacier hikes so that might be a good way to see the glaciers.

the rain forest we drove through on the west coast was quite beautiful. while less impressive if you've already visited the northwest its definitely beautiful to see. while we have bigger trees and just as beautiful forests, probably less dense than here with much different wildlife. the birds here are really cool. and the vegetation is different, palm trees and very thick bush, so thick you cannot penetrate it, which i find totally crazy. the forests of the pacific NW are very open and easy to walk through.

pancake rocks: how could i forget the pancake rocks! this is a definite stop off for about an hour. we took a look and got some great pictures of these geyser like bursts of water when it comes in and hits these crazy looking rock formations that look like stacked pancakes. this was really our last interesting thing before heading inland towards our kayaking in abel tasman.

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