On 30th December we got all our belongings into the van got the bikes strapped on and headed north. We are driving up the West Coast to the top of the South Island, where we are going to get a ferry to the North Island and then drive up to Auckland (to meet up with family in early January).
Before we headed off we had a delicious lunch in the restaurant, where David had possibly the biggest burger I have ever seen...being friends with the chef has definite perks!
First stop was Wanaka, the little town 20km North. We go up here a lot and had a few things to do before we headed off so we planned to race through our shopping list before heading on. As we approached the outskirts of town the traffic was nose to tail and as we drove on there were people literally everywhere. We finally got parked and headed out to the first shop...after a quick chat with the locals we found out that although Wanaka normally has a population of 4,000 between Christmas and New Year this swells to 40,000...suffice to say the shopping was a tad more stressful than anticipated and we were glad to see the back of Wanaka!!
We headed up the side of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka where we took in some spectacular views of the mountains and the lakes. Our first night was spent "wilderness" camping in the Mount Aspiring National Park, where we enjoyed a short walk down to the river before realising that we were being bitten to bits by sand flies...the rest of the evening was spent hiding from flies in the van.
The next day dawned wet, misty and miserable...something we are getting used to in New Zealand. We drove through some scenery which was probably spectacular if you could see it... before arriving at a very wet Fox Glacier. after some debate we headed out to see the Glacier and walked through the driving rain and howling winds to get as close to the face as we could (the walk to the face was closed due to a rockfall). It was impressive to see, but we were all a bit wet, cold and miserable by the time we got back to the van.
The weather continued to deteriorate and we had possibly the quietest Hogmanay ever, as we sheltered in the van from the driving rain, thunderstorms, lightning and howling winds. David and I spent the evening playing puzzles, drinking wine and listening to music from the mid 1990's.
The start of 2009 was a bit brighter and we headed to the Franz Joseph Glacier. This walk was much more interesting as we had to wade through a couple of icy streams, complete with blocks of ice in them. The glacier itself was amazing to see, although again you could not get to the actual face (due to danger of rockfalls etc). There was a constant stream of helicopters doing tours and landing on the glacier and the town of Franz Joseph itself was awash with shops offering tours, trips, flights etc. We are tempted by a day hike onto the glacier...maybe next time we visit!
After our walk and a look around the town of Franz Joseph we headed on up the coast to stop at another "wilderness" camp. This time we stayed on the banks of Lake Mahinapau and the sun came out for a change, so we had a lovely relaxing time.