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The long and winding road to Franz-Josef

The bus left Nelson at 7.15am on Tuesday and I was fortunate (I think) to get a seat at the front with a 180 degree view. This turned out to be a bit of a double edged sword because I was also a first hand witness to the stunning abilities of the bus driver. Seriously, he was outstanding, there are not many people who can throw a coach around the corkscrew roads that snake up and down the mountain ranges, with no discernible braking on blind bends, while maintaining an air of calm confidence. There were a couple of heart stopping moments - for me. I simply had to put my trust in the fact that he probably knew every bump and grind along the entire route and hold on tightly to my tiki. ? He liked to get up close and personal with any traffic in front of him which must have been very disconcerting for tourist drivers most of whom pulled over immediately. Way to go! Actually he was a great guy and the bus service is an unofficial delivery system that drops car parts, newspapers and parcels off to remote communities along the route. You have to applaud that initiative. One 'town' that we passed through had a population of four people. Seriously! Not good if you don't get on with the neighbours or your partner.
As in parts of the North Island for a while I found the scenery a little oppressive with mountains on all sides and the all pervasive pine trees blurring the contours of the landscape. Then we passed into farmland and I began to see more sheep than I have seen since I have been in the country plus herds of cows (beef, apparently, is now the bigger export) alpacas and deer. After Westport the road runs right along the coast so there was sea, road and mountains for miles and these mountains are covered in native foliage. It was absolutely stunning, like driving through a tropical rainforest, and you realise what a tragedy it is that 70% of New Zealand's native woodland has been lost. Congratulations to the New Zealand Government and people who appear to be making serious efforts to reverse this with the creation of new wetlands, large areas of national parks and areas under preservation order.
In Punakaiki we dropped some people off at a lovely looking backpacker hostel right on the beach (aptly named Beach Backpackers) which would be great to stay at if you like a bit of isolation and long walks through the Paparoa National Park or along the beach.? Just up the hill from the hostel is a cafe, upmarket souvenir shop, information site and the 'Pancake Rocks' where a 20 minute laid out walk winds through native forest to the coast and the most amazing rock formations. A brilliant exeperience even in the rain. C877AFB22219AC68175C7CE11D7A3456.jpgC879503A2219AC681798598CDDCECE61.jpgC87B2B782219AC6817DE8DE76234732F.jpg The YHA hostel at Franz-Josef is, in my opinion, good. It is very comfortable and is designed to look and feel like a mountain lodge D5D7E88F2219AC6817D45FA17EE8D963.jpg and it does not have a TV set ? but it does have a sauna which is free. Generally the 'township' is made up of many backpackers lodges and a small number of more upmarket hotels. There are a couple of bar/restaurants, two gift shops, a garage and a small supermarket. Oh and a police station. D8439B572219AC68171759EEDB7036B6.jpgThe rain that started en route yesterday continued throughout the night and most of the day today and the clouds closed in so that it was impossible to see the peaks. D5D1AF2E2219AC681787911F4358EAE4.jpgD5D26B3F2219AC681753D2468ADDE1A1.jpg Scenic helicopter flights over the glacier were cancelled and it was not even worth walking the 1.5 hours to the viewing point 500 meters from the glacier face because you would not have been able to see it. I had also spoken to several people last night who did that walk yesterday and thought it wasn't worth the effort since all they could see was a wall of dirty ice. It is no longer possible to walk onto the glacier because a huge section of the front has broken off and it is too dangerous. The only way to get on it therefore is to take a helicopter ride which will cost you NZ$195 for a twenty minute flight (over either Franz-Josef or Fox glaciers) with a brief landing on the ice to take pictures. The prices go up from there. There was an option to watch a 20 minute film (on maxi-screen) shot from the helicopter so that you could at least know what you were missing. That seemed a worthwhile option at NZ$12.50. Unfortunately it had broken down ?
The weather effectively confined everybody to barracks for almost the entire day and then the rain stopped and the sun came out at about 4pm. It was good to be able at least to walk around the town and to see the mountains emerging from under the blanket of cloud,D5DAC7472219AC6817A178BEEB091C50.jpgD5DBB46E2219AC6817F7CDE181563F7F.jpgand you could begin to see why this area is called The Southern Alps. Suddenly everyone came outside it reminded me of the Alan Sherman song 'Hello Muddah Hello Faddah. There are a nice few short walks around the town and two beautiful historic churches that are worth a visit. D5D47D542219AC6817EEAE4C0A8C1178.jpgD5D347022219AC68176EF9E264565D60.jpgD5D5C6D12219AC6817D23008340FF3C5.jpgD5D6B1DE2219AC6817B46F1763CD768F.jpg The window wall at the end of the second one, St James Anglican Church, looks out onto an excellent view,D788C1682219AC6817E5670B6A7EF630.jpgor at least it would be on a clear day.
So, that was Franz-Josef, not quite what I had expected but I would have had to break the journey south somewhere. It seems the weather here tomorrow is going to be 26c, clear and sunny, I am heading out on another eight hour bus ride to Queenstown (I might try to sit further back in the bus this time) and the weather there is forecast for rain. Do you think it's because I'm English? ?
P.S. When hiring a car over here read the small print very carefully. One of my room mates hired a car for nine days, after two days she skidded after rain. Not too much damage to the car but they carted it away saying that they could not allow her to continue using it until it had been fully checked over. They would not give her a refund on the remaining days (small print) and told her that as the accident was 'her fault' she could not have another car unless she paid again. She had taken out their top of the range insurance policy but all this meant was that she did not have to pay for the repairs to the car. I don't know if this is standard practice or just a rogue outfit but, as always, it pays to read the small print.

Posted by busyboots 22:00

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Hi Jane, another brilliantly written description of your trip - I think you have missed your vocation in life and should seriously consider becoming a writer for travel!
Any signs of a good economy and possibility of work? For me, not you, obviously! x

by kerry ross

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