Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chilling out

After Abel Tasman, we were originally going to stop in Greymouth, mostly to break up the drive, not because I’ve heard anything good about Greymouth. In fact, everything I’ve ever heard or seen of Greymouth in books and travel shows and so on seems to suggest it’s a rainy dump. So when Jules suggested we just drive straight through to the glaciers, I was up for that. We did actually stop in Greymouth for lunch, and it was a perfect blue-sky, sunny day, so although we didn’t hang around long enough to see the town proper, we didn’t leave with such a bad impression of it.

A one-way bridge... shared with a train. Eek!
Another of our plans had been to stop in Okarito and do a night kiwi spotting walk. But when we rang up the day before, he was all booked out. We haven’t been booking anything more than a couple of days in advance, and just turning up to campsites without bookings, and this was the only time it hasn’t worked out. Unfortunately, Jules was super disappointed he wouldn’t get to see kiwis. While it would have been awesome if we had managed to see a kiwi in the wild, we were still excited when we drove through Hokitika and spotted a sign for the National Kiwi Centre. We knew we definitely had to stop in.

It turns out there’s only two kiwi in the National Kiwi Centre, which makes me a bit dubious that they should be calling themselves that, but the quantity of kiwis is made up for by the quality of kiwis. I’ve seen kiwis before on school trips and so on, and I think also as an adult, but I don’t have much memory of seeing more than a blurry blob hiding in some bushes in the dark. (Kiwis are nocturnal, so if you go see them in a kiwi house or zoo, they will always be kept in a dark enclosure.) These kiwis, on the other hand, were running around, coming right up to the glass, and there was even a bit where you could go round the side and watch them over a railing, with no glass. On the part with no glass, we could even hear the kiwi snuffling loudly and moving through the undergrowth. It heard us too, when we were standing above it, only about a foot away, and it put its beak up and looked at us. (Or listened at us, apparently its eyes are very weak.) 

Instead of using their eyes, they used their long beaks for everything, probing in the ground with the full length of the beak, tapping quite hard on the glass and sides of the enclosure, turning over and breaking apart rotting logs looking for insects. Maybe this isn’t PC, but they really looked like a blind person with a cane, using the beak to probe their surroundings. It looked like it would hurt, the way they were tapping on the glass and twisting the beak underneath logs, but obviously not! It was super cool to see them so well and to see them being so active. One even did a poo!

The kiwis were definitely the main draw, but there were various other native and non-native fish, lizards etc. in the place. There was a wall of glowworms that really looked just like LED lights on the wall, they were so evenly spaced and artificial-looking. And there was a tank of absolutely massive scary eels. It was kind of cool watching them swim and also stay floating, perfectly still, even in upright positions.

No cute kiwi photos due to their delicate eyes. So here's some eels

We stayed the night in Franz Josef, and in the clear night sky we could see the stars incredibly well. I don’t remember seeing the Milky Way so clearly, or seeing so many different stars. I just wish I knew more constellations (Orion is the only one I can ever identify). Of course, not helped by the fact that “the stars are very different tonight” in the Southern Hemisphere vs. the Northern. And the moon is upside down!

In the morning, it was foggy, and the forecast was for cloudy weather. However, it lifted as we walked to Franz Josef glacier, and we got some pretty nice views. We got up and out nice and early, and thus it was nice and quiet. On the way back, there were plenty more people walking in, so we were quite pleased with ourselves. It took about an hour to walk to the glacier, stopping for many photos, and half an hour on the way back. Mostly because I really needed the loo by that stage!

Franz Josef glacier

The terminal face

Waterfall with mini rainbow

The next stop was Fox Glacier. Being later on in the day, it was busier, although I have the general feeling FJ is more popular. FJ was certainly our favourite of the two. Because of the angles, you couldn’t really get a good view of how Fox comes down the mountain, although the face of the glacier was maybe prettier than Franz Josef once you get up close to it. But talking of getting up close, I think when I was a kid, you could go right up to them and walk on them. These days the walk ends quite far away from the glaciers, due partly to dangers of rock falls and so forth, rivers changing course and the ground becoming unstable, and because the glaciers have retreated so much. Now, if you want to climb on them, you have to take a helicopter there. There were signs on the way to Fox showing where the glacier came to in 1750, and it was way, way further than these days. Photos even from a few years ago show a huge change. The walk to Fox was shorter, about an hour round trip, but also a bit steeper and rougher. Probably a contributing factor to preferring Franz Josef!

The evil "no stopping" signs on the way up to Fox Glacier

The terminal face of Fox

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