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Published: February 1st 2009
Back in the car "Sunny" we set out over the Haast pass. This pass "discovered" by European Haast in the 19th century is reknowned to be a beautiful drive through the Southern Alps of New Zealand. The road wound past Lake Hawea and Wanaka into the mountains. We quickly realized our drive would introduce us to an evil we have heard much about on our journey around the South Island - sandflies. These tiny black insects bite indiscriminately and are intellegent enough to scale car windows closed but for a small crack and invade in search of blood. We have found it often takes more than one hit to kill them (to which our rent a car roof can attest) and they will bite you numerous times that itch for weeks and result in lumps.
Despite the sandflies we went on a lovely walk to the Blue Pools, ever so clear, via a swingbridge which Ev absolutely loved! We passed numerous tumbling waterfalls, rushing blue rivers and one lane bridges as we made our way to the West coast proper. Arriving at Haast, a tiny hamlet, for a brief windswept walk on the beach before heading north. After a view
of the rugged coastline from Knights Point and a "whale" (aka rock) sighting by a local Texan we camped at the next DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite set on a lakeshore. We quickly made friends with two girls from the UK who wooed us with a hot cuppa and fresh pancakes. Fully kitted out in our "sandfly repelling kit", scarf around the head, pants tucked into socks and our uncovered faces smoothered in DEET, we enjoyed their hospitality as the sandflies swarmed.
Early the next morning Ev declared the day to be "brilliantly clear" so we rushed to Fox Glacier in hopes of seeing the ice in its full glory. I booked on the first heli hike up to the glacier for a up close and personal view of the blue ice. A bit nervous as it would be my first time in crampons and (more importantly) a helicopter. We suited up in 4 layers of clothing, boots that weighed a few kilos each, thermal socks and lunch - just in case we got stuck. Loaded into the helicopter for the coolest way to fly in the world. We glided off the ground and up the glacial valley following
the cliffs and the air currents as we ascended. A quick 360 of the 13 kilometre long glacier and a view of the waterfall from directly above (as the pilot said look directly below you to your left!) we landed on the ice ready for our hike.
We spent the next 3 hours exploring blue ice caves and tunnels, crevasses (from afar!) and hiking to the waterfall, which is no small feat on ice. We crept as close as we dared to the falls over tiny cracks in the ice that our Nepalese guide proudly proclaimed would break off "one day". Holding my breath for fear of encouraging that day to be today I snapped photos before falling through some thin ice and giving everyone a near heart attack. Don't panic, I only fell about 6 inches. Poses with the pickaxe and some very steep and precarious hiking later (Guide: Be careful walking up here. - As we are surrounded by 20 foot drops on either side) we arrived back at the "heli pad", some black rocks plotting out a square on the ice. As the helicopter took us back down the valley we caught some G's coming down
over a ridge and experienced weightlessness in flight. An all around amazing experience!
After watching President Obama's inauguration early the next morning we set off for Franz Josef Glacier. We checked into a youth hostel, were pleasantly suprised as we were given our own 2 bedroom flat complete with heater and kitchen(yay!), met some American travellers- Emily and Josh, enjoyed a private concert (thanks Josh!) and ended up staying longer than planned. After 2 days of relaxing and staying warm we got back on the road to Punakaiki.
A night in the car later we went to the pancake rocks early the next morning to catch the blowhole in action. The pancake shaped limestone is constantly being sculpted by the ocean waves resulting in interesting formations. After a few hours of watching the waves crash against the cliff face without a spouting blowhole we decided to come back the next day. The evening sunset drew us to the beach and before we knew it it was morning and we were back at the blowhole this time with success. Fulfilling our photographical needs we packed up and headed further North.
One more week in the South Island before
we cross the Cook Strait.
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