As you all know, I recently landed a brilliant new job up on the North Island. I actually heard the good news straight after coming off the Whanganui River canoe trip. So the plan for my Christmas holiday period changed rather suddenly. There was now a South Island road trip to be had in order to fetch my worldly belongings from Fox Glacier.
About two days before I was ready to hit the road (and ferry) I found out that the bridge near Hari Hari on SH6 had been washed away by extreme river flows. State Highway 6 is the only road to South Westland coming from the North and so what was previously about a 10 hour journey became one of several days. The only other option was to travel all the way down the East Coast to Wanaka, over the Haast Pass and then up to Fox.
It was a great opportunity to revisit the East Coast, however. It had been nearly two years since I’d last been there and I had some time up my sleeve to enjoy the trip. So, after renting a big cargo van (unfortunately a petrol one with an automatic transmission) it was time to hit the road at around 11 pm. One would think a 2 am ferry would be empty – think again! People were sleeping on any available bit of free space, behind stair cases, under tables in the cafe seating area and those unfortunates trying to fall asleep sitting upright in a small wooden chair, such as myself.
As the sun rose over Picton the reality of being away from the South Island really started sinking in. This really was going to be a farewell journey. I made quick progress down SH1, stopping in Kaikoura for a quick break before meeting up with a friend in Culverden of all places. We made it down to Oxford before reckoning on a place to camp out. It was amazing to see my old home town, quite a few things have changed but then again, so much was the same.
The next day we trucked on down along the inland scenic route before heading into the high country via Fairlie and Burke’s Pass. The weather was fantastic and it was even warm enough to have a dip in Lake Tekapo. As we continued the journey we were treated to views of Mt Cook and the desolation of the high country. It really is amongst my favourite spots in the country.
The trip over the Haast Pass was very nostalgic. This incredible highway which plunges through the heart of a World Heritage area used to be my grocery shopping route. Lunch time coincided nicely with a trip to the Blue Pools after which we were treated to a good show at the Gates of Haast. If you trawl through the EJ photo albums you’ll see that I’m a big fan of this particular area .
I spent a short time in Haast saying goodbye to a few friends. Most of them were still out and about gallivanting on their summer holidays however. After popping into the Visitor Centre it was time to head North to Fox. That night we camped out at the beautiful Gillespie’s Beach. DOC provides a well maintained area including several walking tracks nearby.
The next day I finally walked on the glacier. I had been meaning to do this ever since arriving in South Westland but I think it really took the motivation of moving away to get things moving. So, on my last day in Fox it was time to check it out. It was an amazingly hot day and before long we were all working up a sweat as we climbed along the track to the glacier. Just as well there was a handy cool waterfall near the track and about half way along.
Walking on the glacier was a fantastic experience. Our guide took us to some great spots, entering a maze-like set of icy corridors and even climbing down into a couple of holes. These definitely make for great photos. It was a good, long day. As soon as we got back it was time for me to fly.
I had to be back up in Picton by the next afternooon (if that makes sense?). The Hari Hari bridge was still closed, however, and so it meant returning via the East Coast. Crazily enough, it was due to be opened the next day but I had no room for unexpected delays. That night I made it as far as Wanaka, pulling in around midnight. After grabbing a few hours sleep, again sitting up right in a chair, it was time to hit the road. I returned mostly the same way, choosing the Canterbury Highway rather than the scenic route this time. I made it into Picton with two hours to spare.
As the ferry pulled out of the harbour it was time to say so long to the South and hello to the brand new experiences to be had in the North.