The past few days have been hard. Not because I’ve been starving or homeless or lost, but because I haven’t had reliable internet access. Backpackers in small towns are like junkies when it comes to connectivity. “Hey man, you know where I can score some free wifi?” “Sorry bro, I’m all out. Let me know if you find any, OK?” Now that I’m back in a big city I have my fix. It’s a rough life, man.
Where did we leave off? Oh yeah, I was staying in Westport and looking at seals. Here are a few more pics of the bike trip I took around the cape.
While in Westport I visited an i-SITE location (use them, seriously) and planned the rest of my southbound trip. I would take an InterCity bus down to Fox Glacier Township, spend the night, go on a guided hike atop a glacier, then bus to Queenstown the next day. An Austrian guy with whom I shared a room told me about a hop-on/hop-off deal that InterCity offers called flexitrips that sounded like an affordable way to get around New Zealand. Too bad I didn’t know about it before.
I assumed my trip down the coast would be just as mundane as any other bus ride but the drivers were very personable and gave us local knowledge and history about the areas we passed through. I guess I’m a dork but I enjoy stuff like that.
I had read that the drive down Highway 6 between Westport and Greymouth, called The Coast Road, was incredible and not to be missed. I sat up front in the bus like a little kid staring out the big panoramic windows and I can tell you that the hype is justified. To the left stood glorious mountains covered in lush green vegetation: trees, giant palms, and weepy grasses. To the right, just 30 feet away, was the Tasman Sea with violent waves crashing into outcroppings of craggy rocks. It was stunning. One bridge crossing that revealed a valley of four or five overlapping mountain ranges quite literally made my jaw drop.
Remember my buddy Maurice? One of the places he highly recommended was Punakaiki, which is a small community whose claim to fame includes a unique display of rock formations. In the Maori language puna means “spring” and kaiki means “in a heap”. White people just call the formations Pancake Rocks because they resemble breakfast food. The spring part refers to natural geysers that are created at high tide. I didn’t expect to see Punakaiki but, to my surprise and delight, the InterCity bus stopped and gave us 20 minutes to check it out. I could have stayed there for hours. See for yourself!
Eventually we arrived in the little township of Fox Glacier. “Little” is probably a stretch, actually. There are two glaciers in the area, Fox and Franz Joseph, and each is serviced by a township. Back in Westport the hostel owner described Franz as a three-horse town and Fox as a one-horse town. All I saw was one dog. But I wasn’t there for horses or dogs, I was there for a glacier.
I’ve never been anywhere near a glacier so I knew nothing about them. It’s basically a big mass of ice that slowly moves down a valley, fed by snow at higher elevations. The Fox glacier recedes and advances over the years due to climate and apparently it’s receding these days, but it was still impressive. Believe it or not, we started our journey hiking through a rain forest and then strolled out onto the glacier. Our guide mentioned that there are only three places in the world where you can be in a rain forest and on a glacier in the same day, let alone in a matter of minutes.
Crampons (spikes) on our shoes made walking on the ice easier and our guide lead us along the proper route so we didn’t plunge to an icy death. It wasn’t a treacherous hike but you had to watch your step. I had good conversation over the course of the hike with a Belgian girl and met a really cute Brazilian whose English was so poor that my attempts at flirting fell flat. She was friendly though and smiled a lot so that was good enough for me.
My pics really don’t do justice to the scale of the glacier and it’s hard to get exposure right with bright ice and dark mountains. That “shark fin” shown in the fifth pic was about 15 feet tall. You also get a rare pic of my mug with our Argentinian guide behind me.