|I don't think words can describe what we've seen today. Our early start from Wanaka was thwarted by a wrong turn out of the campsite, leading us up a one-way to Mount Aspiring. Jeff executed a fine 3-point turn on a tiny piece of roadside and we headed back into town to diesel up and wash the windscreen - yep, that's what they call windshields here - so I can shoot another gazillion pictures while Jeff toodles along. (Editor's Note: Mary is much too kind to state that the wrong turn was entirely my (Jeff's) fault!!!!!) (Writer's Note: Sometimes my sense of direction IS good!) It turns out our little detour was for the best. As we pulled out of the petrol station and headed up the right road towards Haast, Jeff noted a little red wrench light on the dash! Rats!!! What now? Back into town (really a 2-second trip that took us much longer since we had to do a few extra turns in search of street numbers!) and the friendly hunk at the service centre eases our mind saying it's only a service reminder. Since the campervan should have been serviced before we even left Christchurch, he thinks he knows the trick to turn the light off and get us on our way. (Chris L. - Thanks for telling me about resetting these things so that I understood what the mechanic meant! - j) Sure enough, push down on both the gas and the brake for 30 seconds while the engine is off, start the engine and voila, it's gone. It seems like a coffee is in order so we each pick up a long black and off we go!
Two nights now in a campervan, sleeping in the upper berth and we're still getting along just fine. Last night was so quiet outside. I don't know how we'll handle civilization again! And, no stiff necks - perhaps it was the Sunday night martini....will we give it up.....perhaps not.
On the road towards Lake Hawea, there's the occasional palm tree and lots of breath-taking scenery - seriously breath-taking! I need oxygen for this slalom course!!! I'd like to point out that the life expectancy of small animals must be VERY short around here. There's evidence splatted on the road everywhere. It's sunny and warm outside and the time we spend in the valley near Makarora gives me time to recuperate. As usual the recuperative period is short - it's kind of like health-care in Canada I guess! I see the word "Pass" (as in "Mountain Pass") and prepare for the worst as we head up into Mount Aspiring National Park.
Jeff has become totally "Aussified" and now signals turns with the windscreen wipers - yep, you got it, they're back on the Canuck side! Lucky for us, and other users of the roads, there aren't a lot of signals required in the Park. Now brakes, that's another thing! We could use lots of braking power. You could easily spend weeks, months, maybe even a year in this Park and still not experience it all. It's a rainforest and everything is so green and glistening with moisture - we can even see our breath on the dark side of the mountains. Seriously, I could wear out the camera here.
But wait, there's a sign for 10 km of snake road. Jeff tells me he's doing 30 under the limit and thinks he's going to get a "slow" ticket. Oh no! New sign! "EXTREME CARE" for the next 2 km! Really, this should be Mount INSPIRING (on second thought, perhaps "Expiring"!!) National Park. As we round the bend there's a one-lane bridge, one of many we have encountered and will encounter, with a lovely gorge below full of gushing water. Some friendly Wisconsonites return a favour and take our picture on the edge. Then we come upon Thunder Creek Falls. Simply amazing!
Jeff is happily accelerating into the curves, using all kinds of physics talk like "centrifugal force" - he tells me he passed that course. We pass Douglas Bluff and Douglas Creek (by the way, how's the house coming along guys?). The creek is quiet at the moment, but you can see it has potential to hold a very large quantity of mountain water if there was a big storm or perhaps during the spring runoff. Note to drivers, the roads really are in excellent condition everywhere in both Australia and New Zealand. They have, for the most part, dotted lines. In Canada, this would mean it's safe to pass. Here, I think you'd have to be a psychic! Everything is so green and serene. We're right into campervanning and waving at our fellow vacationers as we pass.
Scott, I want you to know that the scarf you gave me for Christmas is worth its weight in gold! The air is fresh but not always warranting a coat so the scarf around my neck is just right. Perhaps there's a way for you to make money here! We think of you as we pass the Roaring Swine waterfall. The pictures just don't do it justice.
By 11:10 we're at Haast Beach! It's a quaint little area with a general store where we post our first postcards. We took pictures to show that they went directly into the postal truck so hopefully five lucky groups will get something in the mail in the future. If not, Mom, Pyper & Rayne, Alex, Duncan & Cameryn, Scott & Jessica and Melanie, we at least have those pictures! There are also a few little ponies and the beach would be a good place to tuck in behind a sand dune and catch some rays. Since we all know that is not a good thing these days, we have a little snack and get back on the road on the Glacier Highway!
I take the wheel for the first time. That lasts maybe 5 minutes while there are reasonably straight roads. I even get up to 70 kph! (The speed limit is 100!) When the cars start to line up behind me and there is the promise of 8 km of slalom ahead, I pull over and relinquish the wheel to Jeff before I drive us both off a cliff. Just beam me to the other side Scottie!!!
One thing we've noticed is that there is no litter here - quite something considering the number of vehicles we see even at this time of year. Now we're driving along the coast, looking out over the Tasman Sea. We're about 20 feet above the current water level, but there are pebbles at our level so obviously the waves have been up here recently. It's good to hear the sound of the surf and the black sand is pretty cool too.
What's a rain forest without some rain! We've spied the heavy clouds in the mountains ahead so expect that we may see some - yes, the sun is shining and it is raining on us. Great, the sign indicates we should go 35 kph for the next kilometer......now another kilometer and now only 25 kph. It's really good that Jeff is only going 50 (and you wonder why I'm going to need cardiac care! - - Another Editor's note: I was only going 50 in the straight-aways between curves - and I actually slowed down to 15kph when the yellow sign prompted that was the advised speed for the next curve - and it was so-o-o-o right!!) ). I'm saved the expense of paramedics as we come out into a sunny valley. By 2:30 we're safely in Franz Josef Glacier Township at the Rainforest Retreat Holiday Park, in site #11. Were it not for the sound of helicopters as they take tours over the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, we'd think we were really in a rainforest. It smells great and we have a pretty and private site.
Tonight we'll get pictures organized again, have our lamb chops for supper along with some rice and broccoli!!!! Tomorrow, we've decided to take the helicopter tour at 8:45. It lasts a half hour, with a landing on the glacier for pictures. It's a bit extravagant, but I really want to see the glaciers and Jeff really likes flying. We'll let you know how it goes. Or, maybe Jeff will let you know how it goes if I don't survive the adventure!!!
After our tour, we'll pack up and get back on the road. Our destination will probably be Greymouth, closer to the top of the west coast of the South Island. That will position us well to get to Kaikoura (whale potential!!!) on the east coast the next day and Blenheim/Picton the next so that we're ready for our ferry trip to the North Island on Saturday.
Bev and Steve, I don't know if our trip experience is helping you any with your planning! All I can say is that our experience to date has been great! Bev, there are EXCELLENT shopping opportunities everywhere - and casinos - and scenery that will rock your socks! And we'll try to bring back pamphlets! Sandy, I think you would have a super time on a tour here!!!
Love to all!