Aotearoa: Toward the Glacier

After spending some time hiking around the village of Arthur's Pass (population: minuscule), it was time to get back in the little car and putter our way out of the mountains.

Near Arthur's Pass, a clear river cuts through a high meadow.
The roots on these trees reminded us of Lord of the Rings, for no particular reason.

We stopped in a few places on the way - it is impossible for me to drive past a scenic view, and besides, it's nice to break up a car trip with a few walks and picture breaks. The area is really uninhabited, and it was a good thing we fueled up in Arthur's Pass before leaving. Here, as elsewhere in the South Island, we learned an important lesson: While our atlas insisted that a yellow dot on the map meant "Town," apparently "Town" in New Zealand English means "A house or two, and maybe a soda machine." It did not, however, necessarily mean "A place that has a store, or a gas station."

More of the river, along which we walked in a futile effort to find a supposedly well-marked walking path. We stopped when we wandered into impassable vegetation.
River. Mountians. Power lines. That's New Zealand, in a nutshell.
The monument to Arthur Dudley Dobson, from whom the path takes its name; the monument marks the pass's highest point.

The drive doesn't look particularly long on a map, but when you've got a vertically challenged car (that is, a car that is challenged by any remotely vertical slopes in the road), and you're a bit timid about speeding around blind curves, it takes a bit longer than you might expect. We'd thought we'd be out of the mountains and on to glaciers far earlier than, as it turned out, we were. And the glaciers are a busy place, as we discovered when we arrived at the hostel and people were being turned away. Luckily, we'd called ahead that morning, and they were holding our room for us.

More mountains. Sick of them yet? We're almost out of the mountains!
The Otira Viaduct cuts straight across a gorge. It eliminated some of the scariest curves along the Arthur's Pass road, and so comes as a big relief to anyone traveling there - even those of us afraid of heights.
Coming out of the mountains!

We crossed the Otira Viaduct, above, and stopped at a scenic overlook that not only described the engineering feat it represented, but also showed the old road that the viaduct had replaced. We'd done some winding roads in the course of my time in New Zealand, but that one beat all. It was full of hairpin turns, S curves, and curves that looked like something a sadistic three year old had scribbled. I've never been more grateful for a long bridge of a road than I was at that moment.

Landscapes began to look different once we headed out of the pass, though you could almost always see the mountains.
This little guy is one of New Zealand's native parrots - very smart, and very mischievous. Every single one of the three guidebooks I looked at warned travelers to be wary; these adorable and fearless parrots would not only eat your food in mountain parking lots, but would also, with delight, eat the rubber lining around your car windows.
A small beachside town, and one of the largest towns we hit that day.
More of the town, and its central bell tower.

We were heading for the town of Franz Josef Glacier, named after the enormous glacier it sits beside, which we were planning to hike the next morning. Once we got out of the mountains, the drive was another hour or two south, close to the coast. In that part of the South Island, there's really not much separating the mountains and the coast, and lucky for us, the road was much easier to drive in the dark than the mountain pass.

Driving in the dark may not be fun, but the sunsets are gorgeous.
The darkening sky reflected in one of the many lakes.
And yes, it is as quiet and peaceable as it looks.

We hit Franz Josef after 8 pm, found our hostel room waiting, and got some sleep to rest up for the glacier hike the next day. Which, as it turns out, was a good thing, because we ended up with the speedy glacier guide from hell chasing us up the Franz Josef glacier and down again for half the following day.

And that's the next entry...

6. September 2003


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