Russell Kirkpatrick's Journal
We were supposed to be on the road by 8am. And we would have been but for a pair of drunken hoons. No, not Stuart or myself, two Monaro-driving morons who were working on the roof of the local hotel and who fled after leaving a $500 bar tab. They went north to Franz Josef and smashed into the only power pole between here and the black stump, taking out all the power between Franz and Haast.
So we had to wait until it was light to pack, and this delayed us for over an hour.
We got a good close look at Franz Josef Glacier, now much higher in my books than Fox - at least you can approach it. Got some nice close up shots.
Then the fun began. We arrived at Otira in the rain at about 4.30, but Arthur's Pass was closed by snow. We raced north to the Lewis Pass - having been told it was clear - only to encounter heavy snow on the Rahu Saddle (700 feet lower than the Lewis). We barely made it to Springs Junction, having passed a truck jackknifed in the snow.
By this time we had acquired a convoy, of one. Gemma had been at Otira, and like us she was trying to make a plane connection in Christchurch. There are a number of passes through the Alps, but none lower than at St Arnaud. Trouble is, that was seven hours out of our way. Still, we didn't want to get caught in the snow or get trapped on the West Coast. We managed to get through at St Arnaud by dint of some superb driving (by Stuart, who took it all in his stride) and outstanding navigating (by me). We eventually arrived exhausted in Christchurch at 3am. Fifteen hours on the road.
We entertained each other (and kept each other awake) with a combination of outrageous dialogues in foreign accents, including some creepy southern states stuff, by singing along to 70s albums and by me fussing about road conditions.
Today we flew ot Auckland, then I drove Stuart to Hamilton and he conducted himself admirably at the Penny's event given his lack of sleep. I said goodbye to him there - awkward, as I couldn't quite tell him what a lovely man he is.
Today would have to be classified as a disappointment, as nothing fulfilled its promise. The drive through to the West Coast from Queenstown was magic, with a stop to take a photo of Arrowtown and later on of the Haast River – boulders the size of cars – but once on the Coast, things were abrupt and somewhat underwhelming. This from the place that usually surpasses itself.
We arrived at Fox Glacier about 1.30 and decided to do a glacier helicopter flight, including a walk on the neve (ice plateau) at over 2000 metres up the mountain. It was a great flight – we flew past Mt Cook (3754 metres, the highest in New Zealand) and landed under the shadow of Mt Tasman (3497 metres), having flushed a mountain Tahr and enjoyed lots of snowy excellence. So why did it feel so flat? Well, it was over far too quickly. We were back on the ground a bare 30 minutes after we left. Worse, the pilot did not switch off the helicopter while we walked on the ice, so there was no sense of being in a pristine environment. We felt very much the intruders.
So we decided to drive to the snout of the glacier to see it up close. Problem was, the access track is closed. No access closer than one kilometre. This outrageous state of affairs is because two clowns got themselves killed by an icefall at the beginning of the year. I’m a damn geography lecturer, I know how to handle myself, so why should I be forbidden access? Truth is, this is convenient for DoC staff who can ease back a little with no track to maintain.
Argh. Well, let’s go and walk around Lake Matheson and see if we can see the famous reflection. I enjoyed this but Stuart, with some childhood idea of primordial forest, was rather underwhelmed. I think the West Coast rainforest is very beautiful, myself. Photographic evidence attached.