Photo: Welcome to the Gray West Coast
We crossed the famous Cook Straight from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island). The ferry was huge! I was expecting something similar to the Tanzania ferry that Cyndi and I took – so I downed my Dramamine that morning and went to catch the ferry (see Cyndi – I so actually learn from my past mistakes!). However – this ferry was more of a cruise boat – it carried hundreds of cars, people and even trains…crazy. The crossing was gray and chilly, but not too rough – it only took 3 hours to get to the South Island. A couple of days prior Wellington had terrible weather and it took the ferry 10 hours to cross and the swells were huge…thank God I wasn’t on that puke-fest!
When I arrived in Picton all of my fellow nomadic backpacker friends were in tow and we met our new Magic Bus drive, Karl. Karl felt that we needed a drink, so he headed for one of the famous Marlborough region wineries and we all got out and had a wine tasting. This area is famous for it’s Chardonnays (very different than California Chardonnay) and Savignon Blanc. It really hit the spot…along with my PB&J (I’m still working my way through that damn loaf of bread from the North Island!). We traveled on to a town called Nelson – supposedly the “Sunshine Capital of New Zealand”…apparently Mother Nature did not get that memo though as it was gray and cloudy…go figure. Nelson though was a cute little town filled with artists and slow Internet. The best part of Nelson was the pubs and live music though. By now I had made many new friends on the Magic Bus and met more new ones today – so we all decided to go out for dinner and drinks. We had a great time getting to know each other. By this time I had started hanging out with Alistair from England quite a lot. He totally reminded me of my friend David Henshaw in San Francisco – a fellow Brit – therefore I had an immediate affinity towards Alistair and his proper, quiet Brittish demeaner. We went out with this new group of people which included some Americans and more Irish and of course more Brits (they are literally everywhere!).
We woke up the next day and for the first time in 4 days the sun was shining!! I guess Nelson is the Sunshine Capital! Yeah!!! Too bad we had to be on a bus though the whole day…oh well – you can’t have everything. We headed towards Greymouth via the Hope Saddle and Buller Gorge. We also got introduced to the rugged coastline that the South Island is famous for. By mid day – the sun disappeared though and the rain came pouring down. We stopped at the Paparoa National Park and did a quick little walk just to move our legs and see the sea lions. I’m over sea lions though as I feel like they are as common as squirrels anymore…but the chance to get out of the bus and move our legs was welcomed! We drove on to Punakaiki (no this isn’t a name for the new J. Crew Chinos) – home of the famous Pancake rocks and blowholes. It looked ominous outside – but we got out of the bus with our rain gear and went on a short trek to see the pancake rocks.
These rocks were really amazing (even in the rain) – they looked they they were stacked on top of each other (bring on the syrup!) – yet really after years and years of the surf pounding them they were formed like this. I’m sure there is something much more scientific that I should have been paying attention to – but it started to pour again so we had to race through the trail and quickly take pictures…no time for a science class! We headed on to Greymouth…where I had my first real bad attitude. Not really sure why I was so negative and down – but I’m sure the crappy weather had something to do with it. Even though I was getting used to this nomadic living in hostels, I was longing for a nice bed, warm duvet cover, feather pillow, good food, a TV and some familiar friends. Granted – I liked the new people I was meeting – but everything seemed to pile up on me when we got to Greymouth and I was really depressed. To make matters worse – the rain was now blowing sideways and everyone else was going on a brewery tour that I didn’t feel like doing. I was more in the mood for a cosmo than another pint of heavy beer. So I opted out of the brewery, amd did my laundry instead – without fabric softener again. I have become reacquainted with the term static cling – they don’t even sell dryer sheets in the stores! I think everyone enjoys walking around with a random sock stuck to their sweater! I then ran to the grocery store in the pouring rain, made myself macaroni and cheese (yes, Kraft), and wallowed in my depression/homesickness. I sat in the lounge and watched the All Blacks (New Zealand Rugby team) and tried to warm up in front of the fire missing American football. That night I ranted in my personal journal just in hopes of getting all of the bad vibes out of me through my pen. However – my new ‘quiet’ friend Alistair had quite a wild night at the Brewery tour. As he told me the story of putting his hand through the hostel door window (on accident) and ending up at the police station…I started to think that maybe he wasn’t like my friend David Henshaw…Alistair surprised me…which not many people do! The story was harmless and it had me laughing the whole next morning! That boy can put down some pints though!
The tourist brochure on New Zealand failed to mention that New Zealand has rain 80% of the time – all of the postcards are sunny, blue days. I guess those photographers found the 20%. Obviously the tourism board has a good marketing department. However – all of this rain does create an amazing lush, green environment (if you can see it behind the clouds).
A new day…a new attitude – yet still pouring rain…ugh. I listened to my favorite Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” in hopes that the gods would take pity on me and show us the bright, yellow, ball again….but no luck. We had a short drive today to Franz Josef -home of the Franz Josef Glacier! I had been waiting for this…I was really looking forward to hiking the Glacier the next day – rain or shine – I didn’t care! I had never been on a glacier before – granted – living in Minnesota felt like it – but I really can’t call that a glacier! I canceled my kayaking trip for the afternoon as it was still pouring rain..go figure. However – finally – my prayers were answered – I awoke the next morning and I heard birds chirping! In my tired haze I determined that the birds would not be chirping if it was raining…so this was a good sign! I peeked outside and saw a blue sky and a large snow covered mountain that was not visible yesterday! A great day to climb on a big block of ice!!!