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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Chapter 16 ~ A West Trip Story

Dawn breaks over Rakiura on my final day on this island, and it heralds the beginning of my trip to the West Coast.

This trip is subdivided into four segments: First, I take the plane from Rakiura to Invercargill, next, I catch a bus from there to Queenstown, where I'll stay for a night. From there, I take a second bus through the Southern Alps, spending the next night in Fox Glacier, before finally moving on to Hokitika on the third day.

Straight across the strait

Since I've already taken the ferry on my way here, I decide to take the plane for the return trip.

We depart from the post and flight centre in Oban, from where a small shuttle bus takes us up to the islands little airfield...

...which literally is just that: An open field with a runway and some small airplanes, no buildings whatsoever.

The plane that is to take us back to Invercargill is yet on its way over from the mainland, and emerges on the horizon momentarily, and as it lands on the relatively short runway I have my doubts about whether it will be able to come to a stop before the end of the plateau.

It really is a small plane. Why, in addition to the seats for pilot and co-pilot, it only has eight seats for passengers, making it by far the smallest plane I've ever flown with, and I get a place with a view directly into the "cockpit".

Check-in and security is a lot more lax on these small planes than on the big liners, so it doesn't take long until we're all aboard, and ready for take-off, flying right above the track to Valia Voe Bay which I've walked just a few days earlier, and finally leaving Rakiura airspace across Garden Mound and Lee Bay, which I visited as well. As we fly across the Foveaux Strait, the ride gets a bit bumpy, but I also manage to catch a glimpse of Mt. Anglem on the horizon, Rakiura's highest mountain at 979m.

And then, we're above the strait, where the ocean below is briefly swallowed up by a sea of clouds.

As we reach the mainland, I see a divine sign that renewable energy is the way to go. Ye who believe, spread the word through the world!

It barely takes us fifteen minutes to cross the strait, and before I know it we're already approaching Invercargill.

I intentionally took the early train so I could transfer directly to the bus from here, so all that's left to do is sharing a taxi with some lovely local ladies to get from the airport to the city, and I'm all set for the next leg of my trip, which will commence shortly.

Town hail the Queen

The second leg of my journey takes me up the Oreti River, and into the heart of the Southern Alps, where the resort town of Queenstown lies nested on the shore of Lake Harry Potter Lake Wakatipu.

Whereas all of my long-distance bus journeys have been with InterCity so far, this route is operated by a company named TrackNet, and their buses are a lot smaller.

At the town of Mossburn, we take a short break to switch buses and have some lunch in the local café known as Bracken Hall, where I get myself a yummy Venison Pie...

...before we continue our journey, over the hill, through the mountains, an onwards to Queenstown.

Queenstown - also known as Tāhuna in the Māori-language (meaning "Shallow Bay") - was founded in 1860, although Māori had naturally settled by the shores of Lake Wakatipu much earlier. Originally little more than a small hamlet, Queenstown eventually evolved into the resort town of today, housing a total of 14,300permanent residents, as well as a good number of tourists. In fact, the streets are flooded with tourists, which is a sharp contrast to the pristine calmness of Rakiura.

Lake Wakatipu is New Zealands longest lake, boasting a length of 80km along its peculiar lightning bolt shape. The meaning of its name is unclear, since slight alterations in accent or spelling could give it a variety of different meanings such as "Growing Canoe", "Bay of Spirits" or "Hollow Bay".
After arriving here,I check into the Flaming Kiwi Backpackers...

...and embark on a trip around town...

...on a bike, which the hostel did kindly provide.

My first stop is the local watch repair shop, since my watch had the grace to run out of battery on Rakiura, with no place to get it replaced on the entire landmass. Well, I guess of all the electronic devices I own this one was the least annoying to go out of service at that point.

After that has been taken care of, I continue on my tour around town. My first stop are the Queenstown Gardens, which were founded in 1867 when the Queenstown Borough Council planted two English Oaks on the peninsula, which was originally a patch of treeless scrubland. One of these two trees endures up until today. From the gardens you have a great view across the bay onto the town.

Scattered through the gardens are a number of peculiar devices, the purpose of which is not immediately discernible. Take a good look at them and try to figure out what they might be used for (hint: you're wrong).

Are you done guessing?


Then here's the solution to this conundrum:

These devices are targets for the peculiar sport of Frisbee Golf. Basically, you throw a Frisbee from a nearby base, try to avoid the trees and land it in the basket in as few throws as possible. And just like with normal golf or mini golf, there are 18 courses scattered around the gardens.

Walking around the perimeter of the peninsula, I eventually get a great view of the surrounding mountains as well. I can see why people would pay to stay in a place such as this.

Subsequently, I make my way up the slopes of the hills - painfully, since my free bicycle has only a single gear - and capture a number of panorama shots of the city... well as the Queenstown Gardens.

Returning to the heart of the town I come across a statue of a moa, an species of ground bird that was hunted to extinction by the Māori, which in turn caused the extinction of its primary predator, the giant Haast Eagle.

Also, there's a team of live ducks who are remarkably unperturbed by the commotion all around them.

Eventually, it gets late, and I begin looking for a place to eat. Now, while this place may look promising at first glance...

...a single glance at the grossly overpriced menu quickly makes me re-evaluate my options.

So in the end, I go with what I know is affordable...

...and even though Domino's is a little bit more expensive here than elsewhere, it's still five times as affordable as most of the other places around here (and tasty too!).

After that, I retire to my dorm. After all, I have to get up early tomorrow again to catch the bus that will take me from here. The last thing I take notice of before I lie down is the colourful evening sky which is painted in bands of blazing hues.

The Glacier, the Fox and the Towers

The third part of my trip is the longest one, taking me all the way from Queenstown through the Southern Alps and to Fox Glacier. It's an over 300km long journey that should take just short of eight hours to complete.

Once again, the InterCity services don't operate in this area, so I'm travelling with Newmans Coach Lines this time, and am positively surprised that these buses offer a bit more legroom than the InterCity coaches.

And then, we are on our way just as the first rays of the sun begin to peek across the eastern mountaintops.

This time, we stop for lunch at the small Makarora Country Café, where I allow myself an absolutely delicious mushroom and beef steak pie. I can already tell that I'm going to miss these handy baked meals when I return back home.They just make for the perfect quick meal when you're on the road.

The journey from Queenstown to Fox Glacier is - as already mentioned - a long one, and an incredibly scenic one to boot! Passing by the shore of the great lakes Dunstan, Hawea and Wanaka, the road eventually winds up into the untamed wilderness of the Southern Alps, through Mt. Aspiring National Park, across the pass, and subsequently down the valley of the mighty Haast River, which it crosses near the settlement of the same name. After that, we more or less follow the shoreline, and eventually turn landward again towards the township of Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier was named after Sir William Fox - the second Premier Minister of New Zealand - in 1872, and the nearby township was only founded in the 20th century, housing less than 400 permanent residents (but plenty of tourists).

It's almost 4pm by the time I arrive there, so I waste no time checking into the Ivory Towers Backpackers, dropping off my luggage, and venturing out again, for I have a goal: Going to visit the actual Fox Glacier, which is several kilometres away from the township.

To do so, I follow the Te Weheka Walkway...

...which is an idyllic path through the native brush, and even though it rains a little bit, the walk is still quite refreshing after sitting in a bus for over seven hours.

Eventually, I arrive at a rope bridge spanning across the Fox River, which is mostly fed by melt water from Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, the path beyond to the scenic outlook is closed because of the rain, but I still get a good look of the gushing waters below.

Fortunately, I can still follow the other way along the glacier access road, which takes me up the Fox Glacier Valley...

...and up to a car park, where the less walkative types (read: everyone but me, for I didn't encounter anyone on the walkway here from town, nor should I on my way back) have temporarily deposited their vehicles.

From here, it's still quite a walk to get to the view point, and along the way I come across another few curious signs.

When I finally arrive on the scenic view point, I am rather disappointed. Fox Glacier is nothing but a nondescript mass of dirty ice in the far distance, and doesn't strike me as particularly beautiful are awe-inspiring...

...quite unlike the glacial lake just outside the car park, which features the most tranquil combinations of my second-favourite colour. And the best part is: While all these tourists zoom by this beautiful lake in their cars and buses to stair at dirty ice, I get to admire the splendour of this picturesque lake as I wander back downhill along its shore.

On my way back to the township I take a small detour along the slightly ridiculous Minnehaha Walk...

...and return back to the centre of Fox Glacier. Looking for an affordable place to eat, I check the prices of the local bars and restaurants...

...before eventually deciding to cook myself a less expensive dinner in the well-equipped kitchen of the Ivory Towers Backpackers.

And then, it's already time to go to bed again. Once more, my bus departs early tomorrow, and after my hike to Fox Glacier and back, which took me the better part of four hours, I'm more than ready to call it a night.

Onward to Hokitika

The morning is grey like the evening was when I depart early the next day, and I should soon learn that people here on the West Coast often refer to it as the Wet Coast instead, and for a good reason too: Worse than Taranaki, and the complete opposite of Marlborough, this is the single most rainy region of New Zealand, what with it being located directly on the windward side of the Southern Alps, with the next major landmass directly to the west being either Tasmania after almost 2000km of water, or South America more than halfway around the globe, depending on where on the We(s)t Coast you're standing.

The final segment of my journey to Hokitika takes me mostly through mountainous terrain a good distance from the coast, and takes three-and-a-half hours to complete. Latitude-wise I start out on a level with Christchurch, pass the latitude of Castle Hill, which is located about halfway on the Arthur's Pass road, connecting Greymouth to Christchurch, and end up at about the same latitude as the Island Hills Station.

Incidentally, our bus driver today is the same as yesterday, even though I'm now travelling on an InterCity bus again, and even though the bus driver drove the Normans coach all the way up to Franz Joseph Glacier yesterday. Well, okay, so Franz Joseph Glacier is basically just the next town over, so its feasible that he simply drove an InterCity bus back in the morning, yet nevertheless, I still find it a curious occasion.

Before long, we're off, winding our way through the forested valleys, along the shores of melt water lakes, and over countless small and big melt water rivers, until we eventually cross the great bridge across the Hokitika River, on the far side of which my destination awaits.

It was quite a journey to get here. Almost as long, in fact, as my journey from Germany (see To Singapore, and Beyond!), but now I'm finally here.

I don't have to wait long for one of my hosts to show up and take me to my next HelpX place, the Woodstock Royal Mail Hotel...

...where I settle into my little room, looking forward to the exciting adventures that await me here on the West Coast.

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