Monday, February 7, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 3: From Greymouth to Glacier Country

After 2 lovely days in Christchurch we were on the move.

First We Headed West
We took the TranzAlpine train across to Greymouth – this is reported to be one of the world’s greatest scenic railway trips, & I can believe it. The 140 mile journey took about 4 and a half hours, but the time whizzed by so quickly due to the constant sensory-overload from outside. There was even an open air viewing carriage where you could really feel the wind whipping through your hair (but hold on to your caps!) as you clung on to take photographs.

The journey takes you from Christchurch on the east coast, to Greymouth on the west coast, & you get to enjoy a whole mixed bag of beautiful scenery – from farmland to gorges to valleys, as well as spectacular mountain views as you climb through NZ’s Southern Alps, and then finally  you hit some rainforest regions, before reaching the final destination.

Seats are preassigned for you, so you may have a few carriages to walk through before reaching the open car, but we were very fortunate to be in the adjacent one.  And similarly we were only a couple of cars away from the café  - food onboard is actually very decent, as well as reasonably priced, although some folk had taken their own food along for the ride too.

Day 3 in NZ & M had already developed a taste for the local brew!

Once we reached Greymouth, we collected our checked-in luggage & headed over to find our rental car. One thing that M & I constantly bicker about is driving. More specifically, his driving. I swear he’s always in combat mode. I’m not a nervous passenger, but he is one of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever driven with. So we’d agreed in advance that I’d be the one to start off the driving on our trip since I’m English & therefore used to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of a car.

Although it was nice to feel more independently mobile again, knowing we could stop whenever we felt like & drive wherever we wanted, I’d now lost the ability to stare lovingly out of windows at the beautiful scenes around me. But at least we were both also in agreement about the fact that we were happy to stop wherever and whenever we felt like.

Then South To Franz Josef
And so we set off in our car, headed south to the Glacier Country of Westland National Park, specifically to Franz Josef Glacier. The car journey was lovely, taking us through spectacular rainforest areas. By the time we reached our hotel in the village of Franz Josef, it was raining quite nicely, with extremely low cloud cover that looked quite eerie, hanging over the mountains. We drove out to the Glacier region & went hiking, in spite of the weather - have raincoats, will travel!

The walk initially took us through some rain forest, then across a rocky path through the glacier valley, along the icy flow of the Waiho River. Eventually we reached the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier, which remained an impressive sight, despite the weather. The top of the glacier was still a brilliant blue color, even in the grey, misty conditions – quite amazing to think that this glow represents a million tons of ice!

Crossing the glacier valley toward the icy, terminal face
Arriving at the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier

The glacier forms from heavy layers of snow that compact to produce the hard, blue ice. The combination of snow pressure and gravity force ice down the valley to within 200 meters of sea level where the face is constantly melting. Franz Josef is reportedly the most dynamic glacier in the world since its steepness & location allow it to respond very quickly to changes in temperature & precipitation.

It’s somewhat surreal knowing you are standing at the foot of an ice wall that’s as wide as a valley and has been known to be in the phase of advancing one meter each day.

We walked as far as we could, to within meters of the terminal face – the actual face is roped-off to tourists for safety reasons – to protect people from being caught by falling ice or river surges. Quite a sight though.

Eventually we realized we had soaked in more scenery during that day than we’d ever experienced in a single day previously. We hiked back to the car, & then it was off to our hotel to dry off before testing out some local cuisine & aperitifs to close out the evening!


Natalia said...

Love it! The West Coast is ridiculously amazing (if you don't mind 300 of inches of rain a year....)

Allie said...

Wow, gorgeous!!!!

Nicky said...

Natalia, I agree - scenery like you have never seen anywhere else - just beautiful. Amazing rainfall statistics too.

Allie, the train ride in particular was spectacular - especially with the lovely weather we had.

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