Onward to New Zealand’s Wild & Rainy We(s)t Coast

Greetings from a soggy Franz Josef Glacier, a town on New Zealand’s West Coast. The West Coast, or the ‘Wet Coast’ as I’ve been told the Kiwis call it, is living up to it’s name so far. More on that later.

As I mentioned yesterday on Facebook, I did finally get my scenic flight. I’d wanted to fly over Milford or Doubtful Sound, but the weather back in Fiordland wasn’t participating, so I took the only option I could find available, that being a flight over Queenstown and a snow landing above 12,000 feet from the company The Helicopter Line. I had a nice Australian couple with me, and the highlight for them was the snow landing, since Aussies rarely see snow. Being from Michigan, I believe I’ve seen enough of the white stuff to last a lifetime (although thankfully not much this odd winter).

The highlight of the 25 minute flight for me was the sweeping views over the mountains and the city of Queenstown. I still hope to do one more scenic flight here in Franz Josef, over the glaciers and Mount Cook– weather permitting.

After my flight I had a chance to stop by the original bungy jumping site at Kawarau Bridge. They had a visitor center that screened and intro film about the history of bungy jumping and some nice viewing platforms. I can honestly say this is not something I ever thought about doing- not that I’m particularly scared by it, I just don’t understand the appeal. It’s just too expensive (jumps are over $100NZ) to ‘give it a try’.

Being a history junkie as opposed to an adrenaline junkie, I chose to drive about an hour outside Queenstown to the ruins of a Central Otago gold rush town known as Bendigo. Queenstown and the area surrounding it saw many boom towns pop up in the late 1800s due to the gold rush. While Queenstown and Wanaka made it, places like Bendigo were abandoned once the gold ran out. Today the site is nothing more than a few stone ruins overlooking Lake Dunstan.

Knowing I had a long drive ahead of me, I left my hostel bright and early this morning. I was, for the second day in a row, greeted by a magnificent sunrise over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

I headed toward the west coast via Wanaka and the Crown Point/Cardona Valley Road, the highest paved road in either Australia or New Zealand. The first 5 miles were quite twisty as the road climbed above 10,000 feet.

It wasn’t long after heading north out of the town of Wanaka, that I noticed the dark clouds rolling in over Lake Wanaka. I could tell that I was going to get wet…

I didn’t just get wet- I got soaked to the bone. I wasn’t going to let the rain deter me- I still went on the three short hikes I had planned, but I paid for that with soggy shoes (I only brought two pairs, and my sketchers don’t go out in the rain) and all three suitable tops I have for rain soaked through, including my actual rain jacket. As with my washout at Tekapo early in the trip, it wasn’t the being soggy that bothered me, it was missing out on the scenery that I was passing through that was obscured by the driving rain and the low clouds. I have a feeling the Haast River Valley is gorgeous, but all I saw is the picture above.

As with most of the schizophrenic New Zealand weather, I had just started to head north along the West Coast when I had about a half hour of clearing. I got a little sun, a patch of blue sky, and the opportunity to take some pictures of the Tasman Sea, the volatile body of water that causes most of this crazy weather.

I have a glacier hike scheduled for tomorrow in the afternoon. I also tentatively scheduled the flight I have been dreaming about for months. The people here say it’s supposed to clear- the weather site referred to me, metservice.com.nz, says otherwise. It’s also still raining hard, as it has been for the last 6 hours straight. Anyway, I don’t really have to move on from here for a day and a half- I hope I can continue my long streak of luck and get my flight in. Stay Tuned….

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