Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17th, 2009 - Punakaiki, New Zealand to Fox Glacier, New Zealand

In the morning we walked out to Pancake Rocks, an impressive but unexplained area with a particular type of layering in the cliffs. Some combination of the way the rock was formed and years of daily erosion by the ocean had resulted in what looked like a kid's dripped sandcastle. Seriously, I read the little sign. They don't know why it formed that way.

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

Heading south from Pancake Rocks, we definitely started to get more of the feel of the west coast. By this I mean that it started raining. The “Coasters” are used to getting all four seasons over the course of a single day. John was telling us that when he first came to the west coast he was standing outside talking to someone on the street when it started “hosing down” rain. His first instinct was to run for cover, but the guy just stood there continuing to talk like nothing had happened. The other comment someone made that they thought pretty much summed things up was “Put it this way. There are a lot of good banjo players on the west coast. 'Nuff said.

We took a couple rainy walks before stopping at a place called the Roadkill Cafe. This area of the west coast is a lot like areas north and south of San Francisco in that they tend toward the kitchy “Bigfoot Museum” type of attractions. The cafe served “roadkill sandwiches” (possum and venison) and was covered with “Unattended children will be sold as slaves” type signs. They were SOOOOOO funny... but I can't remember any others. On the way in we'd noticed a huge scary looking buck in a paddock outside. He was laying down on the top of a small hill, head turned to look in a far off direction, massive antlers at the ready to challenge another male for his territory. But when Ann walked out with a little white paper bag filled with alfalfa pellets we'd bought for fifty cents, he turned into a ginormous kitty cat with a coat rack on his head. He scampered over to the fence, turning his thick head so his nose would fit through the wire mesh, begging with his floppy lips for that little cylinder of grassy goodness. It was pretty funny until he started chasing away the mother and baby goat when they would get too close. I tried not to burp lest he smell the venison on my breath and transform from kitty to cougar (pronounced “cue – gar”).

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

From there, we made a quick stop in Hokitika, once a likely choice for the capitol of New Zealand. During the gold rush of the 1860's Hokitika was the main port for trade between New Zealand and Australia, due in no small part to the fact that it was the closest. Unfortunately, the entrance to the harbor was somewhat treacherous and legend has it that a ship was lost just about every 10 weeks. Between the end of the gold rush and the later prohibition on the logging of native forests, the west coast today has many fewer residents than it ever has in the past.

Hokitika is also known as a good place to shop for jade (they call it greenstone) created from the pressure of the Indo-Australian plate riding up on the Pacific plate. In addition to the creation of greenstone, this techtonic action is also responsible for the active growth of New Zealand's Southern Alps including Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman (both 12k + I think). Ann got a nice piece of “flower jade,” so called because of a neat bloom of beige and black minerals set within the deep green.

From Hokitika, we did a walk up to see the Franz Joseph Glacier. Franz Joseph as you know was an emperor of Austria and the glacier had been named in his honor by a cartographer called Haast who mapped much of the South Island. There was a nice viewpoint from which we could see up onto the glacier. Back in the parking lot, we found a bunch of the parrot-like Keas doing what they apparently love to do, test their beaks on anything plastic or rubber and the door seals and windshield wipers on campers are a favorite.

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

From 2009-01-18 Australia and New Zealand

We pulled into the town of Fox Glacier discussing the possibility of a helicopter flight up for views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman and including a landing on the glacier. Of course, the fact that the skies opened up and thunder and lighting were soon crashing all around the hotel was not a good sign.

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