A little under two weeks spent in the north island visiting friends and exploring some of the highlights went by too quickly. I landed in Auckland, explored some with my friend Kim and within a few days found myself in Mt. Maunganui on the Bay of Plenty. What a beautiful little town, fun and touristy and right on the water. I climbed the mountain on a crisp blue-skied day and was rewarded with views that stretched for miles. Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity, with geysers, sulfur springs and bubbling hot pools, was a bit too pricy for me, but I managed to find a nearby park where for FREE I could see the mud bubbling out of the ground, and soak my feet in the hot thermal springs after much wandering about. Lake Taupo was beautiful and restful and then I hiked the Tongariro Crossing in the National Park by the same name, a must-do for anyone heading to New Zealand, no matter how long one stays. A lovely stay with my kiwi friend Alan in Wellington proved not long enough. An excellent tour guide and adventurer, we touched corners of the city and the surrounds I never would have otherwise known about. The day before I was scheduled to leave for the south island, Wellington was hit with one of the windiest days on record. The day after was so calm in comparison and proved to be an excellent day to cross the Cook Strait, known to be one of the most dangerous and unpredictable crossings in the world. I had nothing but blue skies, dolphins and postcard-worthy views; I even overheard a few locals talking who said that was one of the best crossing they have ever taken (by that I presume they mean "calmest"). A few days in the wine region in the top of the south island and then I made my way south along the west coast.
The week before Easter, I traveled down the west coast from Nelson, visiting Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, but opted at the last minute not to climb up on either one of them. The weather was pretty bad, lots of clouds and rain, and the only glorious day was the day I left Franz for Fox. I spent that day inside, guarding my bags after checking out of my room, but getting lots of internet work done, as there were free computers to use at the place in which I stayed. I kept kicking myself for not getting outside on that day, and still wish I had. Anyway, my bus arrived in the mid afternoon, and as it was, I was the only one on it. I had a nice chat with the driver, sitting right up front next to her during the lovely, scenic 1/2 hour drive. It was only her third day on the job, second day doing that route. I saw her again later that evening wandering the block long Fox Glacier Township.
At Franz Joseph I walked in the rain from town all the way to the glacier park and then on towards the glacier as far as one can go without going on it. There were very few people at the park that day, which was quite nice. When I turned onto the access road from the main road, there were a bunch of people huddled together, all cars parked, not moving, and one woman standing about beaming with a large pair of scissors in her hand. As it turns out, a couple local important peeps were christening the opening of the new access road, and I got there at the tail end of the speeches. Soon, we were all clapping and I just happened to be one of the first (oh, *the* first) people to cross the cut ribbon. The local photographer/journalist was out in full swing, but I never did find out if I made the front pages of the local paper or not. He snapped away as I crossed the line.
I was thoroughly soaked after viewing the glacier up close (the rain, luckily, stopped when I got closer so I was able to take some photographs, however dismal the clouds made the shots) and was not looking forward to the long walk home in the later part of the afternoon. Luckily for me as I was walking away from the parking lot, a lovely older couple from Australia stopped and offered me a lift into town. They had a posh rental car with heated leather seats. I felt dry and warm by the time we got back into town, about a 10-minute drive away.
Having visited Franz Joseph Glacier I decided not to walk all the way to the glacier at Fox but instead took off for Lake Matheson to see if I was able to get some views of the surrounding mountainsides mirrored in the lake, as this is what it is known for. Sure enough I was able to, despite the dark clouds overhead. Out at the lake I met another couple from OZ with their two kids. We chatted quite a bit and kept running into each other at different view points along the trail. It was about a 6 KM walk out to Lake Matheson from the town and the same around the lake, but as luck would have it once again, shortly after I started walking away from this very special lake, this lovely family stopped alongside me and offered me a ride on my way back to town. This saved my feet as I was getting quite tired. Too tired to walk to the glacier. Besides it was getting quite cold.
Ok, in order to keep this from getting too long, I shall end here and continue on next time with Milford Sound.
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