It’s slow going through the mountains, which is basically the whole country.
We left Blenheim a few days ago, travelling the eastern seaboard to Christchurch. Much of the road has ocean views, but to our right (I just had to edit that. Originally I said left, my other right) is always the towering young mountains, the furthest inland ones are snow-capped, the ones lining the coast are covered in pine and palm, which is such an odd mix to me. We pass tons of tiny creeks – all named with words like Piney, Stinky, Stoney, Rachel’s, Blue and what not. We stop nearly every 30 minutes. I suppose my Kiwi friend is not used to four-hour drives. At a seaside hut he buys me a hot Paua sandwich. It’s tasty. Then he tells me it’s a blue shellfish that grows on the rocks in the sea. Ewww.
Further up he stops so I can take some photos of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. I’ve never seen seals in the wild. We both hope a Great White Shark or an Orca will show up and toss one of the fat barking creatures through the air for our viewing pleasure, but no dice. Oh well.
There are numerous deer farms along the way, but I’m very disappointed in the lack of sheep. New Zealand boasts 40 million sheep, but I think they’re lying. Before we get to our destination I finally see a tandem open and land… all I can say is ahhh – normality.
When we get to Christchurch, it is so overcast that I see very little of the city. He takes me to his brother’s furniture factory where the men are busy constructing expensive pieces whilst par-taking in casual beer Friday. His best mate lives in the front of the factory in an awesome little studio. He makes us Crayfish (lobster) for dinner on the Barbie and we have a good night drinking, listening to music and talking. I get to talk to Dave on Skype for the first time since I left Canada, and for the first time I really don’t want to be in New Zealand.
We left Christchurch at 7:30 a.m. and headed towards Arthur’s Pass. As we traverse through the narrow passes with scaling mountains on either side, evidence of landslides and the road being washed away are everywhere. I can only imagine how treacherous the winter driving must be here. It’s kind of scary but beautiful in the same. WE pass one car that is pulled off to the side – an obvious casualty of excessive speeds on these windy roads.
Waterfalls drip off the mountains everywhere and occasionally a tall skinny Remu or Rata tree pokes out of the canopy. Sometimes we just pass a pile of trees in a gully, victims of a rockslide. The riverbeds are covered in grey stone and incredibly wide, though only a trickle flows through them. No doubt the spring run off must be something to see.
We stopped in Otira for lunch at a rustic motel that reminds my Kiwi friend of the old New Zealand, before tourism ate its soul. We have hamburgers for $6.50, which is quite reasonable and rare. I confess, I peeled the beets off mine.
One thing interesting about driving in New Zealand is the single lane bridges everywhere. They don’t add any time to your travel day though because the roads are virtually empty.
We couldn’t have noticed when we reached the west coast. The clouds were on the ground and if the Tasman Sea was there, I could not have seen it. The remainder of the drive to Franz Josef was kind of boring, except for seeing the dumb Magpies on the side of the road asking to be run-over.
I don’t get to walk on a glacier at Franz Josef. I follow Mat around to different optional landing areas for a potential new DZ he’s assisting with. I’m bored and anxious. I want to jump and I’m beginning to realize there is no way he’ll be driving to Queenstown. Before dinner I ran across the street and bought a bus ticket for $53. I had to be outside for 8 a.m. and I almost missed the bus.