Travelling in New Zealand, to an Australian, is a bit like living in an altered universe. It’s not different enough to be a massive shock to the system, but some things just don’t seem quite right. The paddocks, cows, and country homes look familiar…and customs and of course the language are the same; but the trees are all wrong (bizarre ancient miro and rimu trees instead of gum and wattle); the fish and chip shops FEEL like home, but you order scoops of chips to go with your hoki fish instead of a medium chips and a piece of flake; and while there is bush everywhere, it’s bizarre to think there are no native mammals in this country (apart from one species of bat), while Australia has wallabies and kangaroos to spare. (On a side note, apparently there have never been other mammals here. There are loads of native birds, and an abundance of native plants, but the only mammal pouring out of the bush is the introduced possum…considered vermin here).
Over two days we travelled from Greymouth to Te Anau.
The town of Hokitika is renowned for its pounamu (greenstone) shops. They are everywhere, selling beautifully crafted necklaces in traditional Maori designs. The town is super touristy though, and everything is pretty darn pricey. We wanted to check out a little kiwi in real life, and while my dilapidated Lonely Planet suggested “The National Kiwi Centre” (in a small building in town) was going to cost a reasonable $18, clearly inflation, and the tourist dollar has upped the price to $70. “Enjoy the postcards kids, coz we ‘aint payin’ that!”
We did eat the best fish and chips though, just $5.50 a bag for two pieces of crumbed fish and crispy crinklecut chips. All super fresh and not the grease-fest I’m used to.
We kept driving, past hitchhikers, over single lane bridges, through Amazon-like jungle, past paddocks that stretched out to the ocean, sheep, sheep everywhere, fluorescent blue glacial rivers, council road workers who wave and smile as they spin their “stop-go” signs, and motorists who beep a friendly thanks when you let them pass.
The original plan was to do the 1.5 hour return walk near the Franz Josef Glacier to get a glimpse. While 20 years ago, we could stomp around up there, the $400pp chopper rides to visit now were a bit out of our price range. Now we have a sore-footed walker, so we decided to just pull into the carpark to see if we could catch a glimpse from there.
And there she was! It was a cloudy day, but the ice glowed a bright white. (below) I still don’t really understand how glaciers work. I know they’re frozen rivers, but why don’t they just melt? And why is it so much shorter now than 20 years ago, but somehow it advances a metre per day. I’ll have to do more research…
We weren’t sure where we’d set up for the night, but got to Haast at around 8, so it was there. There’s no freedom camping in the area, so we booked into the Haast River Holiday Park. On a map, Haast seems to be given the same space as Greymouth or Hokitika, so we assumed there’d be a supermarket open, or at least somewhere to try the region’s specialty, whitebait patties, for dinner. The “town” was tiny. A hotel, a corner store and a tourist shop. Shut, shut and shut. Baked beans for dinner it was! We later found out that it is considered one of NZ’s most remote communities. One policeman, one electrician, no doctor, no plumber, and 12 kids in the school, one who it states in a write up of the town. “shot my first deer at age 7”. How touching.
Avalon enjoyed some quiet to get artsy doing one of her holiday watercolours.
From Haast the next day we made our we towards Te Anau, with more incredible landscape through the Haast Pass, including Thunder Creek Falls. The roads were so quiet.
Probably because every tourist for the final week of the school holidays was in Wanaka, a groovy lakeside holiday town which was bursting with traffic. Finding a carpark for our hotel-on-wheels took an age.
We refueled with one of the best burgers (the “Mofo”) I’ve had in ages from “Red Star Burger Bar“. It was to be a day of fabulous food, because for my birthday (45 yo!) we booked a table at “Redcliff Cafe” in Te Anau.
It’s rare we bother going out to dinner at home unless it’s one of the handful of tried and true favourites, because we get sick of paying for something I could cook better myself at home. No, this was A+ food, all with a modern NZ twist. We ate homemade salmon dip, kumara salad, venison, wild hare, pork belly, fish, and finished it off with mini cheesecakes…with the staff singing me Happy Birthday. It was perfect.