The journey up the west coast from Franz Joseph to Greymouth should have been spectacular (another word that’s getting a good hammering in this blog) but the weather didn’t do us any favours and such views that there were were limited to watching heavy seas beating against the coastline. Considering they get rain on at least 200 days of the year and the region’s described as a temperate rainforest we probably shouldn’t have been too surprised.
Aside from a short-lived gold rush in the mid-1800s the West Coast region hasn’t really had too many lucky breaks. Apparently there’s some coal and of course there’s logging and fishing, but the real problem is the lack of road and rail infrastructure and the consequent difficulty in gaining access to the area across the Southern Alps. As you drive along you gain the impression that this part of the country is the poor relation in comparison with some of the other, prettier and wealthier parts of South Island that we’ve visited over the past couple of weeks. They call it the Wild West, and it’s easy to see what they mean. We did, however, enjoy our brief stop at Hokitika where a wander through the Museum told us all about the history of the town and a walk along the beach will provide a great introduction to my new book – ‘101 things to do with driftwood’!
Greymouth doesn’t get a terribly good write-up in the guide books, so we took them at their word and gave the town a miss – though we did deign to stop overnight on a large open space overlooking the sea to the north of the town along with a dozen or so fellow travellers.
Although the day started bright and sunny, by the time we’d ‘broken camp’ and got on the road the clouds were shrouding the mountains – and as we were in the mountains that meant that we were in the clouds. In other words it was raining; which was a pity really because with 6,000 ft peaks all around us I’m sure that the scenery would have been spectacular on a sunny day. Scenery aside there’s not much of interest on the drive north from Wanaka towards the coast – in point of fact, with two notable exceptions there’s not much of anything between Wanaka and Hokitika (420km) where we expect to be tomorrow night. What, I hear you ask, are the two exceptions? I’ll tell you ………..sandflies and glaciers!
I’m not entirely sure why they’re called sandflies. The fact is that that they seem to be perfectly at home just about anywhere on the West Coast of New Zealand, just so long as there are people to bite. Forgive me, but I’m doing the species a bit of a disservice; the fact is that whilst the males are annoying but harmless the females are never happier than when they’re drawing blood……….any similarity to humankind is, of course, purely natural.
We stopped for our daily constitutional at the Fox Glacier. It’s really peculiar to be able to drive/walk in the space of a few minutes from what is in effect a temperate rainforest to the foot of a glacier, albeit glaciers that shrink year on year – both the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers have receded by about 3km since they were first seen by Captain Cook in the late 18th century. As we stood at the foot of the glacier great lumps of ice about the size of a small car were being washed down the glacial river towards the sea whilst a man in an enormous, caterpillar tracked, digger was trying to move boulders around the valley bottom in an attempt to channel the river along a particular route. In terms of scale it looked like a Tonka toy trying to move the whole of Chesil Beach – I imagine he must be paid by the hour.
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and an occasional account of goings-on in the Ewbank household