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NZ trip - part 4 of 7

After a day off for laundry and so on, it was time for Tam and Stephen and I to load up the car and catch the early ferry across to the South Island, for a 9-day circumnavigation. Above, a shot of the inland Marlborough Sounds, on the drive from Picton (where the ferry lands) west towards Havelock and Nelson.

Along the way -- a shot taken from the ferry of the water and landscape within the Marlborough Sounds closer to the mouth. More stunningly-colored water, as well as, in this shot, crazily situated farms (that are probably approachable only by boat). We were quite lucky, too, as just before we docked at Picton, we got to see a pod of 6 or 8 dolphins rush out past us.

We stayed overnight in Nelson, which I had read was recommended as having a great concentration of artists and craftsmen. The World of Wearable Art museum is there, and we went there, and it was quite wonderful (especially since it not only had a number of notable costumes from the show, but also a running loop of video, so you could get to see some of them in motion; and the other half of the museum had a big Classic Cars show going on, of which I took many fine pictures, since we were allowed to photograph that but not the WOW costumes; but I decided to spare you all my moodily-lit antique cars). Nelson is also supposed to have a number of artisans who were hired to make things for the LOTR movies -- including the workshop of the guy who made the One Ring. It also turned out to be the home base for an ivory carver of astounding talent, whose studio we went to see.

So, in all honesty, here is the thing -- Nelson failed to charm me. Possibly this was not Nelson's fault. My problem with it was that the things I'd read about it had led me to expect one thing, and when we got there, we didn't find that. It has only now occured to me that basically what I expected to find was... Napier. A small, charming waterside city with a quaint and charming and walkable downtown filled with quirky and unique artisans shops, ideally in a pedestrian district, and little cafes, and things. But when we got there and parked and walked around... what we found was basically just a normal city downtown, filled with a lot of chain stores and banks and so on, and it was more or less walkable but very unlovely.

That night in our motel, some more guidebook consultation (including of local guides picked up that night) enabled us to make more sense of the city. It turned out that, NEWSFLASH, no, this was not going to be like Napier. *shrug* The photo above of a street of charmingly restored historic cottages (about which I had read) was just that -- one little street of historic cottages, containing a few galleries (the building above was something like the Nelson Pottery Cooperative, which was quite nice). Artists and artisans/craftsmen had shops and galleries scattered all OVER the place, in some cases all over the greater district, often requiring driving between them.

Armed with a local map that indicated locations of these things, and having spent some time identifying desired targets, we *did* manage to do a nice little tour of the places we mainly wanted to see/shop at the next morning. We stopped by the workshop of the guy who did the One Ring, and indeed got to see the oversized Ring of Sauron (that was made for the prologue). And naturally you could buy a replica for him, although I will be honest here -- I have never really understood the point of wanting to possess a replica of the thing that the entire trilogy is all about trying to *get rid of*. We went to the pottery cooperative. We went to some jade shops. We walked around the somewhat interesting cathedral, perched up on a hill overlooking downtown.

This, on the cathedral grounds, is the aloe tree, in flower, that I promised I would show you (I didn't even know that aloes flowered, did you?), with Stephen for scale.

In a gallery in Havelock, we had seen some traditional Maori carved bone/antler pieces by an artist with a really striking style, whom we discovered was based in Nelson. After some research and even more luck, we found out where his studio was, and went out there -- which was a neat trick, as he lived out on this spit of land the approach to which was only negotiable at low tide. Fortunately, it WAS low tide, but it was disconcerting to drive out onto the sand and park at the bottom of his driveway, which was obviously underwater at certain times of the day. (He later claimed that the water never gets more than about knee-deep, if you really want to leave while the tide is in.)

He was a really congenial old guy, who chatted with us and showed us his workshop and some of the cook Maori instruments he's done; and he had a cane that someone had given him that was just a length of narwhale tusk, which we got to pick up and pass around, exactly the way you never get to do with such things when they are displays in a museum (so you would never know how much HEAVIER than it looks a narwhale tusk is, althogh it makes sense, since it's a big *tooth*, not an antler). And I bought from him a gorgeous pendant in a tui design, because I'd already decided that I thought tui were incredibly nifty.


Following Nelson, we drove to the west coast through the Buller Gorge. The Buller is a long, rushing river that gets progressively bigger (the way rivers do) as it wends its way to the west coast, and this was a neat drive as we got to follow it just about from where it starts to where it empties into the Tasman Sea at Westport. One of the diversions to be had along the route was the Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure & Heritage park, so of course we stopped there, because I wasn't going to pass up the chance to walk across NZ's longest swingbridge!

It's unfortunate that cameras tend to flatten landscapes, because that made it difficult to get a good shot of the bridge and the river below that showed exactly how high up and long the bridge is. I'd say that it has to be a good 9 meters above the river (and the bridge is 110 meters long), and in classic swingbridge fashion, the 1-foot wide metal grate that you actually walk on is completely see-through. (I don't really suffer from vertigo, so I loved it; though I will say that the swingbridge would be more fun if you could be on it by yourself and really make it bounce, which of course you mustn't do while there are other people on it with you. But it's a great temptation.)


The odd flying guy above is somebody doing the Comet Line, which you could either do "superman" style (like this fellow), or sitting in a harness. Now, there is no way anyone was going to get me to bungy-jump (more on that later), but I'm all for putting on a harness and zipping on a wire across a gorge, so long as I'm upright.

This was Tam and I doing the tandem harness ride, while Stephen on the bridge took pictures. (We got a 2-for-1 deal, which made it reasonable to shell out for; we assume, because it was getting late, and the staff was bored because it was winter and hardly anyone had been there.)

Now, I would like you to look back up at the pictures of the swingbridge, especially the one taken from the side, with the river so far below it that you can't even see the water from where I was standing to take the picture. And I'd like to relate to you that apparently, with some regularity, the Buller experiences floods to such an extent that it can rise *18 meters*, and the last time it did this was in 1998 or so, when it took out the previous version of this bridge. Yikes.

Across the bridge there were several nice bush walks, and we took one that promised us a "10 minute" trip to see a Very Tall Kahikatea tree. The walk out to it, on occasionally slippery trail, was more like "10 minutes, MY ASS" (although on the way back, it seemed shorter, and I think I timed it at 15 minutes; it was probably more like 20 minutes out). When we got there, it was indeed incredibly impressively huge and tall -- in excess of 30 meters, something like that? Unfortunately, although I got some pics, without any means to provide scale, they just don't look as impressive as it was.


One last delight offered by the Gorge -- a bit of the highway that had been carved *into* the cliff-face, with a rocky overhang above.

Following an overnight stay in Westport, we ventured out to Cape Foulwind in the morning (great name, huh? really enticing) in order to view the fur-seal colony there.

Gorgeous, if a bit windy. The seals, they did not disappoint, either. There were a TON of them, though of course mostly you were high above them on boardwalks, looking down. So, I SWEAR to you that some of what appear to be rocks in the pictures below are actually tons of seals. It's kind of like one of those games -- How Many Seals Can You Find in This Picture?

And before we leave Cape Foulwind... the problem with NZ, obviously, is that it's the middle of freakin' nowhere, as this signpost underscores:

Tam related a story about some famous advertising agency that was tasked with coming up with a tourism slogan for NZ, and offered, I believe, "The Heart of the Ends of the Earth" or something -- which is hilarious in the wrong sort of way to actually get people to *go there*. (Though it beats out literalman's suggestion, which is simply: "New Zealand: It's a Schlep".)

From there, we started our long trek down the west coast. First stop: Punakaiki's famous Pancake Rocks, an aggressively dramatic collection of extremely weirdly-eroded limestone pinnacles and caves and blow-holes.


Pretty good close-up showing the odd, horizontal erosion patterns.

Arty shot of a hebe shoot in a cleft in some of the rocks.

Really, the entire South Island's motto ought to be "Aggressively Dramatic". (Shot from out on the Pancake Rock walkways looking north up the coast, with the sun breaking through the cloud cover.)

Punakaiki, or rather its Visitor Center parking lot, was also another stop on the Tour of Encountering NZ Native Birds -- in this case, the weka, a flightless chicken-sized species of rail that, as you can see in these pics, can also be quite a bold and opportunistic scavenger. (I thought they were awfully cute, but I certainly got the sense that if it ever occurred to them to gang up, they could be major thugs.)

From Punakaiki, we continued south through Greymouth (a stop for lunch), and on to Hokitika, the JADE SHOPPING CAPITAL, where we parked Stephen in a nice cafe with his book, while Tam and I went and methodically hit every jade shop in town. (After which, I returned to one of the earliest ones to get the piece I had seen and really wanted -- a lovely figure-8 design with primitive eel heads on either end -- only to find that the shop had closed! Woe! Fortunately, this has a happy ending, as I was able to communicate with them after I returned home, via fax, and send them a sketch of the piece, which helped them find it, and they did a mail order for me. Luckily it was a very unique design -- in all of the jade shopping I did on the trip, and I did a LOT, I never saw anything else like it -- and not, say, yet another subtle variation on one of the more ubiquitous traditional designs.)

After Hokitika, we decided to drive into the dark in order to make it to Franz-Josef, where there is a glacier, to be poised to do glacier-related things in the morning. The praises that I have heaped upon cheap NZ motels do not apply to the brand-spanking-new resort place we stayed in at Franz-Josef. For about the same money we'd been tending to pay (NZ$95 or so a night), we wound up with a smaller room than at anywhere else we'd stayed, a less well-equipped kitchen, and a less-well-furnished room. (Like: it was a room for 3 people, and therefore it rather ruthless contained exactly 3 of everything... except for stools to sit around the little counter, there were only 2 of those. Plus, it had electric blankets on the beds, clock-radios, and bedside lamps -- but so few outlets that you could basically only choose to have some, but not all of it plugged in at once. Feh!)

When we got up in the morning, though, what we discovered was that it was POURING RAIN again. (Listen -- I realize that the west coast is a temperate rainforest, I GET IT, okay?) And also, we looked at the sort of driving time we were managing to do, and we looked at the rest of the South Island that we had to cover, and the other things we wanted to do, and we contemplated the fact that we had to be back up to Picton by a certain day, to get the ferry back, etc. And we made some Tough Decisions.

First tough decision: no hiking on either the Franz-Josef or Fox Glaciers. A pity, but... we didn't think we could spare the extra day it would take to do it, and the weather was so crap that we weren't sure that any of the helicopter outfits that will fly you up and deposit you ON the glaciers would even be flying, and even if they were, whether we'd be able to SEE anything but clouds obscuring all the peaks.

So we decided to commute to the glaciers, and then hightail it south to Haast and the pass over the Southern Alps towards Queenstown.

Franz-Josef has an access-road that you can drive up, and from the car-park you can at least SEE the glacier. Apparently, there are only 3 glaciers in the world that end in temperate rainforest. One is in Peru or Chile or something. One is Franz-Josef (above). And the other is Fox Glacier, 25km from Franz-Josef.

Not only does Fox have an access road that you can drive up to a car park, but it also has a trail from there that will allow you to hike up to the face of the glacier, more or less, in about an hour. Despite the fact that it was still pouring rain, we decided we couldn't pass up the chance to get closer, and set off.

In the pic above, Stephen provides some scale in the foreground. Now, if you click through to the full size image, you will be able to see the path zig-zagging over the ridge in the middle distance, and while the glacier face looks very close to that, it is in fact as far away from that ridge as that ridge is from me where I'm taking the picture. (Sorry, I thought this pic was the one that had the teensy red DOT on the ridge, that I could then tell you, "see that? that's a person in a red parka waaaaaaay" over there, but... it's not.)

Even at this distance, we could hear the occasional crack and boom of settling ice from the glacier.

A feature beside the path. This is notable for two reasons -- one, it's another example of startlingly-colored NZ water, but unlike the pools and lakes at Wai-O-Tapu, this isn't chemical so much as it's suspended particles of micro-rock created by the glacial grinding. Two: that greyish rock shelf hanging over the pool is... not rock. That's a giant chunk o' glacier ice, just tumbled there. (Yikes.) Scale-wise, the thing is as big as a house, too.

Another shot on the approach, showing the river run-off of the glacier -- though unfortunately, the place where the path ends is out of sight behind the ridge on the left. (Took a lot of pics here, but many came out sort of blurry due to water on the camera lens.) I truly wish there were something to give this scale, because... MAN, that thing is big.

Finally -- when you get to the end of the path, it's a respectable distance from the actual glacier face, and there's a rope fence keeping you from getting closer and trying to, like, lick the glacier or something. Which is wise, obviously, because these are relatively fast-moving glaciers and they calve pretty regularly. There's also a series of pictorial warning signs which we thought were kind of hilarious (though undoubtedly good advice):

(Caution: Glacier will try to fall on your head! Caution: it will also try to drown you! Caution: no, it SO totally will, we mean it!)

Next time: over the Haast Pass! Queenstown, Te Anau, Doubtful Sound and a Million Waterfalls!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:00 pm (UTC)
One last delight offered by the Gorge -- a bit of the highway that had been carved *into* the cliff-face, with a rocky overhang above.

OMG. You have a photograph of my worst driving experience in NZ!

I don't know if you did any of the driving; if not, you might not have noticed that almost all the bridges are one lane wide, and you have to check the signs before the bridge to see who has the right of way and who has to yield. So I came to that bridge/causeway/thing, and I did check, and I saw no cars on it, so I headed out. ... yeah, so partway out, I saw on the mirror at the corner that trucks were coming. I had to back off the bridge, which curves, driving on the left side of the road. !!!!

I love NZ road and trail maintainers, but their traffic engineers are insane.

The best meal I had in NZ was at some fancy wine bar in Franz Josef. Stewed venison over puff pastry, yum! Eaten outdoors with a view of the glacier...

10 minutes, MY ASS

Hah! What I noticed in NZ was that they didn't do distances on the trail signs, just time. And the time estimates were for, well, fit Kiwis, not slightly unfit Americans. *g* In 3 weeks and multiple hikes, I only ever beat the estimate once--and that was because we misread the map and had to run part of it, or be trapped on the trail in the dark. Yikes!
Sep. 11th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
Ohhhhh, man! That sounds nightmarish! Although, I would like to point out that, as the picture shows -- hey, at least that stretch of road has fairly robust guard-rails! (I am imagining trying to do the same thing on one of those umpteen stretches that *don't*.)

I was all prepared to do some of the driving -- I've driven on the left before, in the UK, and on some quite little roads, too. But it never actually happened. I freely admit that I was totally nonplussed by the NZ roads, and intimidated by the way my friends were so used to driving on them that they really *whipped* around those curves and all.

But I sat in the front seat the whole way, while one or the other of them drove, and believe me, the state of the road, the curves, the lack of guard-rails, and the one-lane bridges on STATE HIGHWAY 1 for crying out loud, were QUITE often a topic of conversation. :)

I actually felt like I ate pretty well on the trip as a whole. (Had a great meal in Wellington at the Tasting Room, which specialzes in game dishes as well.) But then, I don't mind oscillating between "eating really well" and "eating junk food". But I was fortunate, in that one of the ways we kept expenses down was making sure to get all these motel suites that had full kitchens; so we actually just went to grocery stores and cooked our own meals 80% of the time.

I did discover some really good beer, though. :) (One type of which I'm totally going to see if I can get one of my local stores to order, because OMG it was the BEST BEER EVER. It was brewed from a recipe of Captain Cook's from 1793, was flavored with native rimu and manuka, and so it had this wonderful, slightly piney, slightly smoky flavor to it.)

Also, chicken-flavored potato chips. Like *crack*.

I'm all for putting "distances" in times rather than lengths, since the there-and-back time is often a more important consideration than the length in kilometers, and it's sure useful for tourists (such as from the US) who totally aren't used to thinking in kilometers, or in knowing how long it takes them to walk a set distance.

BUT. As you say -- the major drawback to that idea is, who sets the pace? :P
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous, just utterly fabulous. WOW!
Sep. 11th, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :)
Sep. 12th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you about Nelson. We've been to a lot of parts of NZ, and some of them we've only really managed to zip through on the way somewhere else, so I'd been kind of wondering if we'd so far somehow missed the charming, artsy-funky Nelson of my imagination. I guess if you live there and are part of the arts scene, then it feels like a groovy funky artsy place. But if you're just passing through (even if "passing through" is staying there for a day or two with some time to explore), then it's not easy to plug into that.

One of these days, I'm going to get there on a weekend, for the famous market... although I have a sinking suspicion that it won't after all be much different from the Martinborough Fair, or even the street markets they have in Auckland or Christchurch.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )