Monday, December 31, 2007

West Coast, New Zealand

I am at something of a loss to adequately describe West Coast, New Zealand. Perhaps I should start with what I expected. When you look at a map of New Zealand, Route 6 is the only road that runs from Greymouth to Haast. So I envisioned a scaled down version of an American Interstate. And because it is on the coast, I envisioned houses … lots of them … overlooking the ocean.

What I found instead was an isolated, narrow two lane road that in some areas lacked pavement. Almost ALL the bridges of any consequence on this road were one lane and there was no consistent rule about who had to “give way” … it was different at each bridge. On one bridge just outside of Hokitika there was a one lane bridge that also served as a railroad bridge. I have NO idea how THAT was supposed to work. And there are no houses overlooking this remarkable landscape. Where ARE all the people?

dirt road and one lane bridge on Highway6

The other thing I didn’t expect was all the tropical vegetation. Especially tropical vegetation nestled up against glaciers. These ferns are everywhere in West Coast (which is the name of the province.)

The Silver Fern

The Glaciers

So yesterday we started at the Franz Joseph Glacier. I like the Maori name and story better. The Maori call it Hine Hokitawa. Long ago Hine Hokitawa, who was an adventurous sort of girl who loved mountain climbing, invited her not so outdoorsman boyfriend, Tawe, to go hiking. Sadly, Tawe slipped and fell to his death and Hine Hokitawa shed a million tears that froze and became the glacier.

reflection at Franz Josef Glacier

Fox Glacier


When we turned the car east again at Haast, it had started to rain. We ascended along the Haast River surrounded by rain forest vegetation. Then the road flattened out and the skies cleared and we found ourselves in an expansive mountain meadowland. Still no people … no farms … no sheep … just beautiful mountains as far as the eye could see. We are now on the shores of Lake Wanaka (emphasis on the first syllable). It is a heavenly blue sky day. Tomorrow we head for Queenstown.

Where IS everyone?

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