New Zealand South Island-Part One

Frank with the graveyard behind him

We landed in Picton and stayed at a hostel with a graveyard motif, situated right next to the port docks. It was called Tombstone Hostel as it was actually next to a graveyard. The facility was fine and they provided freshly baked ‘Scones” for breakfast, an added plus. We had fun there spending time talking to a certain New Zealander who had driven his 1970’s MG convertible from Christ Church to Picton with the plan to cross the sound and visit the North Island. Ryan had visited the USA in the past and his stories and history lesson about NZ made for some fun as we drank red NZ wine—which is very good. 

View of Picton harbor from the beginning of our drive

Our goal was to go south by following Route 6 from Picton to the west coast of the North Island which is renowned for great shore cliffs, mountains, valleys, hiking paths, and national parks. The photos of these places will tell the best story. The route is topsy-turvy. We started out driving south, then west, then north through the cities of Nelson and Motueka on the Tasman bay. Many cities are bestowed with Maori names which probably have great definitions that we don't know. Nelson was a very cool middle sized city, kind of like Traverse City, MI, and hailed as one of NZ’s most livable cities, but smaller Motueka was the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park which had the sandy beaches and the islets in the Tasman Bay, as well as small mountains piercing the waters shore.  We took our time on this drive, stopping for a quick hike on one of New Zealand's many marked trails and then lunch in Nelson for the famous fish and chips.

In Motueka we stayed at another hostel and the next morning we took a motor catamaran for 1 ½ hours to the trekking drop off point and started our 14 km trek in Abel Tasman National Park from the beach to the forests to the foothills, viewing the various inlets and small beaches from high land above. Abel Tasman is one of the 9 great treks, even thought we only went for a day, the trek was invigorating and beautiful. 

The next day we drove straight to the west coast.  The landscape is again breathtaking, hills and valleys, almost no towns. On our way we stop at an out of the way camp site with the “ Old Ghost Road" trail”. Here we trek 3 hours just for the heck of it. Interestingly, this trail parallels a river which is on public lands that allows “Fossicking” without a permit. Any person can come on this public land and “sift for gold” in the river water. We did not see any glittering minerals, but we enjoyed the glistening river current.   New Zealand also has marked picnic areas on the roads.  The areas are as small as one picnic table and larger with clean toilets.   

We arrived later in the day to Punakaiki on the water.  The water blasts with the most violent currents and crashing waves that assault the shoreline cliffs. As we drove on the winding two land road to the shore we were stunned by the rock formations that where being beaten by the waves—no surfing here.  Punakaiki is also the home of the “Pancake Rocks” and tidal Blowholes in the Paparda National Park. We walked to the shore to view the carved up and stacked rock formations that look like pancakes and see that the wave action is so violent that the pressure causes the water to spout up through the rocks, ie blowholes. This is a massive area where “Mother Nature” is just explosive. See our photos below

The next morning we did manage to get down to a cutout beach area we followed a trail from our Hostel, but we did not dare to go to close to the water surge. It was fascinating place. 

The beach, it is small rocks, not sand

The next day we waited out some rain at our small hostel and then took a 3 hour trek on the Paparoa National Park trails into the neighboring rainforest and foothills, and over swinging bridges. On this trek we were surprised and graced with the company of wild mother goat and 2 calfs. You know there where no indigenous mammals in NZ (except bats) so no worry about bears or cougars in the forest. We also had horses in the road on the way out of the trailhead.  In this country we have decided to trek at least 2 hours per day (5 KM) in every place we land.  

Back on the road, south to City of Franz Josef (named for the Austrian Emperor) and the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. These ice formations are in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.  Again the drive is breathtaking and it is hard not to stop every few minutes for photos.  

The road to Franz Joseph

The road to Franz Joseph

It was dark when we entered the city of Franz Joseph and stayed at the YHA Hostel chain that is available all over the world. We do not have the $25 membership, but it was still cheaper than any other accommodation; NZ housing and food is very expensive and we don't fuss much. 

The sunsets and sunrises in New Zealand are beautiful, full of pinks and yellows, this one was on the road

We decided to trek to both Franz Joseph Glacier and the Fox Glacier on the same day. We started Franz Josef first. The walk is easy and marked. The pathway takes you to a heightened viewing point of this shrinking Glacier. Franz Josef is largest of the two sites. We are cordoned off from getting too close and being exposed to rock falling or ice. 

The trek to Fox Glacier is more challenging and we believe far more inspiring. The Fox trek is through a long and wide riverbed of rocks and pebbles with running streams, carved side walls and steep pathway inclines. There are signs-“ No Stopping”—so you don't become targets for falling rock—or—is it a command to keep tired trekkers moving? In any event, the path to the FoxGlacier makes you “earn” the experience. The Fox Glacier fills the valley entrance. It is impressive but not overwhelming like the glaciers in Argentina that we saw. It is receding and has been receding for decades. Photos from 1800’s show the now massive loss of ice. The locals suggest helicopter rides to see the length of the both glaciers, but we are satisfied with our effort and pathway to the sight.  This is our last day at the glaciers. We will travel further south tomorrow.