After a relaxing time in Queenstown it was time to head West through the mountain range. We blasted through Wanaka – maybe it would have been worth of a longer stay but as hiking was the only free thing to do there our sore legs after the Ben Lomond Summit voted to move on quickly.
The only way through the mountains is via Haast Pass. It was another scenic drive you could’ve filmed for hours. We stopped in the middle for a quick Haast Pass lookout walk and to learn about the people using this pass way before roads and 4WD’s.
We weren’t in a rush anywhere and found a perfect place to cook when it was still daylight (a rare luxury). Throughout our trip we have pretty much eaten three different dishes – sausages with veggies, bacon-veggie pasta and chicken with veggies. Now we wer’e mixing it up a bit to do tortillas! An expensive investment to a $2.69 spice-mix and a salsa can but sometimes you have to have some luxury on the road.
Next camping spot would have been far away so we decided to camp here and next problem was what to do from 5pm to bed-time when you have a limited amount of battery in my Mac and it’s getting dark soon?
Read! Finally couple of hours just to immerse yourself in to the wonderful world of Station Eleven. I didn’t like that book first (used the word “pretentious”) but warmed up to it in the end. Different way of telling a post-apocalyptic story.
My plan had gotten less and less specific about things to do the further we’ve been on the road. I didn’t have anything on Haast or the West-coast and Lonely Planet book mentioned a remote bay as a “must-see”.
It really was remote and small, without any other people than us. We had our breakfast there and drove back the same way we came from.
The most common reason to visit the West-coast is to see the glaciers. On the other side, at Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park you could also see the smaller glaciers on the mountain sides and the pits where the glacier used to be but all the massive ones are on this other side of the mountains.
When you arrive to Fox Glacier township you find out that seeing the glacier is not that simple or easy – sadly or luckily, depending on who you ask. One can drive quite close and take a 30min walk to a lookout point where you can admire the ice mass from a safe distance. This lookout point will change depending on the weather and ice conditions. Unfortunately, even though there are multiple signs warning not to go further, some people still try to get closer to the ice and there have been deathly accidents in the past.
Another way to experience the glacier is to go on a guided tour. A lot of people rave about this, saying it was the best experience in New Zealand. You’ll get to fly to the glacier in a helicopter and do a walk with a guide wearing crampons. As these cost quite a bit we opted in for the lookout walk and planned to do an 8-hour hike at Franz Josef (called Alex Knob) that would offer amazing views to the whole glacier from quite high up.
My original plan was to do a skydive at Wanaka. I had chosen the 15,000 ft. one but as we went to check-in, the visibility allowed to do only 12,000 ft. After preparations and putting my gear on they informed me it’s even worse and people can only do 9,000 ft. There was no point on paying still hundreds of dollars for a very short freefall so I took a refund and hoped I would get another chance later.
And at Franz Josef we did. As Richie wrote about our sky-diving experience in an earlier post, we did the highest New Zealand has to offer – 19,000 ft. (6km) and for the same price as the smaller one would have been in Wanaka (thanks to Richie!). And I’m glad we did. Not only do you get the sky-dive but a 15min scenic flight where you can see the whole mountain range, the glacier, Mount Cook and everything that surrounds it.
Everyone says sky-dive is the most amazing experience they have done and they can’t wait to do it again. Well, it was definitely an experience but a more terrifying one for me. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the jump or the freefall, it was the absolutely freezing air that froze my face and made it almost impossible to breath. I remember just thinking almost the whole time “why the fuck anyone wants to do this” :D it didn’t help that we we’re recovering from the flu and I felt the pressure in my ears.
I haven’t given up on sky-diving yet and will do it again when I am 100% healthy because it must be enjoyable right?!
Beyond the dive we did not do much in Franz Josef. It was pissing down rain the morning we woke up in our car and I got soaked bringing the breakfast stuff to the shelter. Now I found out in practice what difference it does to have a GoreTex Active-layer jacket instead of GoreTex-Pro – this one did not really hold the pouring rain. On the positive note I have a reason to buy a new jacket.
The cold and the wet got us both got sick and we checked into a private room in a hostel (what luxury), stayed in bed two days and watched Lord of the Rings. God those movies are long!