Thursday, 29 October 2015

Glacier Country

I wasn't too excited about visiting the glaciers on the West Coast. I had spent a couple of days after leaving Punakaiki feeling a bit homesick; I was sad about missing autumn and I wanted somewhere I could just hibernate for a day, without any people around. I had also decided not to do an actual glacier hike, as they are quite expensive, so it really didn't seem like a very interesting prospect. I went anyway, though, as the two glaciers are just the kind of places you visit when you are on the West Coast.

Franz Josef Glacier

 After visiting the glaciers, I'm still not very impressed by the glaciers themselves. This is partly because they keep getting smaller, so the public can view less and less of them, without paying to actually get on them. And I guess it is partly just because I'm Norwegian, and I have seen glaciers before. But I loved the surrounding area. I only had one day in Franz Josef, and it was a grey and misty one. This is fairly typical, as it is located in a rainforest-area. Somehow it felt like this was how Franz Josef was meant to be experienced, adding a little touch of mystery.

Lake Matheson and Fox Glacier

For my day in Fox, I woke up to a blue sky. The weather definitely did this the right way round, as there are two main attractions around Fox village: the glacier and Lake Matheson. The woman at my hostel had said I could do both in one day, though I might want to take a shuttle to one of them. I started with the lake, and it was a perfect day for it. When it's still, Lake Matheson is known for offering a stunning reflection of Mt Cook. Chances are that if you've ever seen a postcard picture of New Zealand, it might very well have been taken here. I wasn't there early enough for the water to be quite still, but it's still a pretty good view.

As I walked back to the village, a Czech woman offered to take me. It turned out she was going to the glacier as well, so I came along with her. This turned out quite perfectly, as I would have ended up walking a lot otherwise (relax, mum, I wasn't hitchhiking, she just offered me a ride!).

Again, I didn't find the glacier that impressive, especially as it is covered in dirt and gravel. Even though you get quite close to it, it really isn't a great view.

I find it fascinating how much impact the glacier has had on the environment around, though. Leaving behind a huge valley, where things still don't grow. Like the West Coast in general, it is just such an obvious example of the incredible forces of nature.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The West Coast

Arriving at the West Coast, Punakaiki quickly became one of my favourite places in New Zealand. Punakaiki is smaller than a village, without even a supermarket or a convenience store. In fact, there really isn't much there. But as we reached the coast, I couldn't help but marvel at what an incredible force of nature the sea really is.

My guidebook described the West Coast as "rugged". The word I am left with is "wild". The sea rolls in in unstoppable waves, relentlessly pressing against the massive rock formations. Its effect is obvious everywhere you look, no rock left untouched.

And it felt so right to have my first experience of this place alone (I would later join forces with some other people staying at my hostel). Because I didn't feel like a spectator of something, but as a part of my surroundings. And I can't describe this feeling in words that aren't cheesy or corny, in words used a thousand times before, but I did really feel at one with nature. And so I walked around with a red nose and wet hair, because in this place where everything is uncontrollable, the weather likes to make its own decisions too, feeling more at peace than I have in a long time.

Punakaiki is known for its Pancake Rocks, so called because they look like stacks of pancakes, or at least that's the popular explanation. Tourists pour out of buses to gaze at this natural wonder. In this place, that humans obviously can't control, we build walkways. To construct some sense of order, to create a safe distance between us and the incredible force that is the sea. So that we have a place to look at it, without actually having to be affected. So that we remain in some sort of control.

At the end of the day the light changes, the landscape looks softer, but the sea still keeps going. I don't know if it ever calms down. I don't think it does.

On a lighter note, as the main attraction here is the Pancake Rocks, the café's speciality is, of course, pancakes. I treated myself to a ridiculously expensive stack the morning before I left, and it was just as amazing as I thought everything else in Punakaiki was.

And one last thought before I go. I've touched on this before, but it is incredibly fascinating to observe tourists in New Zealand. Absolutely every tour bus stops to look at the Pancake Rocks. People get out for half an hour, have a look around, then they move on. I went on a bush walk* when I was in Punakaiki, a beautiful 10km through the rainforest, and I only met three other people in two hours. I went to another lookout by the coast, and there were no one else there. And I get it, I do. If you have limited time in New Zealand, you want to make sure you don't miss the important things. After all, they are sights for a reason, and I'm ticking off all the attractions myself. But it's interesting how very little you have to stray from the tourist paths before you have these beautiful beaches and forests all to yourself.

*"bush" is what the New Zealanders call the forest. Can you tell how much Kiwi culture I'm picking up? Though I guess "walk" really should be "tramp". So I went on a bush tramp...