All right, I am going to pretend something here – namely, that I haven’t forsaken my blog for what feels like two years, from which there is no coming back, even if it has only been… well, would you look at that, four months exactly today! – and if you’re willing to pretend that with me, that would be just swell! Cheers!
Now, back to the real topic at hand – driving in New Zealand.
If you feel like driving for a long time, undisturbed by traffic in either direction, annoying drivers who honk at you for no reason or take you over way too aggressively, or anything else that you usually encounter on the open road – New Zealand is the place for you!
Well, I guess Utah or anywhere south of the Four Corners Monument (thank you for that piece of trivia, Breaking Bad!) would do it too, but… Hey, if you happen to be in the South Hemisphere when the urge to hit the road overwhelms you – then New Zealand is your place. Yeah, no, really… I don’t really know if it is or not, all I’m trying to say is that they have great long empty roads down there. Just level with me, will ya?
And one other thing, I’ve heard so much about Highway No.1 or State Highway 1 a.k.a. Pacific Coast Highway and how it’s the best drive in the world – I guess California is pretty cool and I will talk more about it in my USA stories (which are on their way) but for now, all I have to say is that the PCH can’t hold a candle to Highway 6 on NZ’s South Island! Highway 6 is over 1100km long all in all, but what I set in comparison to the PCH are nearly 500km of it, along which it is the only main road you can be on. There are a couple of small towns – or clusters of summer-houses, who knows – on the way but between Greymouth and lake Wanaka, there are no other roads merging onto Highway 6.
Oh, no petrol stations for stretches of more than 100km either, so make sure you have a full tank before you set off on this road trip. The chances of someone passing by and saving you are not that great. Just FYI. But in spite of the possibility to get stranded, I’d say it’s well worth that risk:
I am sure there are people who can put up better pictures, taken with better cameras and better light, that would prove me wrong on all points, but I didn’t even try to make these pictures pretty. I just snapped away for about 30 seconds and then stood there – or paced around a little, because if you stand still the sandflies get you (I guess that’s one thing Cali has.. or rather hasn’t that beats NZ) – and took it all in. Because let me tell you, it was magnificent!
Not just the ocean – everyone’s seen AN ocean at least – but the serenity of it. It was a little like the day the water taxi left us at Apple Tree Bay and the energy of the place enveloped me in a way I hadn’t felt before. Like that but… cruder, rougher somehow in the dusk and the relentless wind.
The sound of the waves and the wind drown any other sound around you, isolating you from your reality. The second you step out of that car it snatches you up and makes your blood rush straight to your head. Not being able to take it all in with one look or with ten minutes of gazing makes you feel helpless and insignificant… and for all of it – more alive than ever. It’s not a bungee jump or running with the bulls, but it gives me a rush that is addictive.
The adrenaline, however, was not the reason we set down this particular road. One of our main points of interest on this trip were the glaciers. And, apparently, New Zealand has tons of them but for one reason or another the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers are the most famous, hence touristy and accessible. If you’re wondering, it is the latter that was more important to us, which is why Franz Joseph and not Fox Glacier was where we were headed. If you’re curious, you’ll find out yourselves that they offer a bunch of different experiences in the region, including but not limited to walking on the glacier and helicopter sightseeing. As you can also imagine, it’s the main attraction that fuels local economy, so the prices for guided tours are not backpacker or woofer-friendly, for example.
But there is a 10-15 minute walk from a parking lot to a viewing platform, wherefrom you can observe Fran Joseph in all its glory… from a distance of about 2km away. If not more, I’m shit at telling distances. You can observe, that is if the weather’s at least marginally on your side. Which, of course, it was not on this particular November day. Knowing that we are not going to be in awe of the view, but also, that we can’t lose a day waiting for the weather to eventually get better, we decided to take what we can and get out of there.
We only got moderately wet getting to the viewing platform and we did kind of see a white smudge behind the mist and low-hanging rain clouds in the distance, so we count that as a “check” on that occasion. Of course, if I’m ever so lucky to be back there, I do hope the weather’s nice and I get to really see it. After all, there are plenty of glaciers here in Switzerland too, but to my knowledge none of them has slid as low as the rainforest that flourishes at the foot of its mountain, so… yeah.
Seeing how I just explain what the conditions were, I guess you don’t need an explanation of why I’m not attaching any photos here, right? Well, if you’re that lazy to google it yourself, here’s one courtesy of GlacierCountry.co.nz: