After spending our first day and night in Christchurch we set off to drive across the country through as much mountainous terrain as possible to reach our first destination of Franz Josef. This approach lead us to some pretty amazing sights along Arthur’s Pass – a stretch of road that meanders through the Southern Alps which also represents the path some of the first European explorers followed to reach the opposite side of New Zealand. This drive had so many moments of sheer beauty we literally had to make ourselves stop pulling over for pictures ever 10 minutes.
The Kiwis (New Zealanders) have a word for hiking which is tramp. So it’s not “Want to go for a hike” it’s “Want to go for a tramp”. Good thing I was informed of this before hand because otherwise the innocent question of “planning on going for a tramp?” which was asked by our hostel workers might have prompted a severely raised eyebrow and jaw drop.
Well tramp we did, particularly along Arthur’s Pass which is chock full of pit stops and short, medium and long long long tramps through the mountains, up to waterfalls, down into valleys and alongside rivers. Our first consisted of Castle Rock – a formation of boulders moved eons ago by glacier’s which, from a distance, look like the ruins of an ancient city. It was this tramp that convinced me to don my new hiking shoes (ewww) after my stylish thongs (Aussie for flipflop – never fear!) almost sent me tumbling down the mountain side. A moment of silence for fashion please….thank you.
What is this strange feeling on my feet? I’ve never felt this before. It’s like little cushions and pillows are hugging them constantly. Is this what they mean when they say “comfortable footwear”? Yea, yea. My hiking shoes were uber comfy and I actually liked them. New Zealand can have a strange affect on people.
We finally reach Franz Josef after turning a 4 hour drive into a 9 hour excursion (other tramps of the day including a hike up to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, and several “it’s just too beautiful not to stop” moments). This is definitely our favorite way to travel – our own pace, stopping incessantly, and marveling at rocks, grass, blue sky, clouds and the always fun left side of the road.
Franz Josef would be our base camp for Christmas as well as our exciting hike on the Franz Josef glacier – one of only two accessible glaciers in New Zealand. It was here that we were also introduced to one of New Zealand’s oldest inhabitants: Te Namu. The sandfly. (cue evil music).
Side story: So, later in the trip we hear of how Spanish explorers were actually the first Europeans into the fjordland area…they hopped out of the boat to claim the land, and promptly were chased back to it by the incredibly annoying, biting sandfly.
Had we a boat, I’m sure we would have jumped back into it. We had to settle, however, for bugspray and anti-itch cream. No poisonous creatures or plants to speak of in the entire country and yet they have a this thing worse than a mosquito. Evolution is a strange thing.
The next morning dawned bright and early (we thought Australia had a lot of sun…) around 6 AM and we headed off eager to start our excursion to the glacier. After a short hike we arrive at the base, where it looks, to us, as if it’s nothing but a ton of rocks – the ice had looked so close from a distance. We climb over said rocks along several switchback trails until we come into sight with it again…and realize how sprawling the glacier really is. It was an amazing, disconcerting encounter with perspective especially as, once on the ice, you realize how full of crevices and craters and beautiful ice formations there are. Yet from the valley it looks like a smooth plate of ice and snow. I don’t think Adam and I ever stopped smiling, it was so amazing to be standing on a glacier, on Christmas Eve, in New Zealand! The ice was beautiful, the weather amazing…it was simultaneously unreal and so tangible at the same time.
Having spent around 6 hours out hiking we enjoyed a well deserved soak in the hot pools and settled in for a cooked Christmas Eve dinner at our little cottage – delicious monkfish – and eagerly awaited Santa…though both of us knew he’d already more than delivered!