Wow. What a day.
We woke up early, had bacon and eggs (drool) and headed North to a place called Punakaiki (pronounced poo-nah-kye-key, as opposed to the way I've been asking for directions, poo-nah-kye-ee-kee). Extra sylables FTW. The trip was, surprise-surprise, pretty special. The coastal landscape is very rugged, lots of cliffs, with huge waves pounding against the rocks and filling the air with mist. It was also very cold, and the few times we jumped out of the car for photos we both hurled abuse at the air.
Early-morning beach view on the way to Punakaiki
Punakaiki is famous for the Pancake Rocks, this natural formation of cliffs, caves, and islands where the rock has a heavily layered appearance (like a stack of pancakes, incase you couldn't figure out the relationship). A really pretty and interesting view on a smaller scale than what we're becoming used to, so it was nice to chill out there for a while and take some photos. Until the tidal blow hole gave me a freezing early morning shower and drenched my camera.
Some more Pancake Rocks
This is what the Pancake Rocks look like about
2.5 seconds before they drench the person looking
That was our cue to walk back to the car and begin to 260-odd-km (but 4.5 hour) drive to Franz Josef. We went back through Greymouth and about 20 minutes out, BAM: the coastal mountains disappeared and as far South as the horizon, and beyond, was this gigantic wall of snow-capped peaks. I just about crashed the car. The morning sun was bouncing off the snow and it seemed to glow, so insanely intense. Just miles and miles of blinding white, stretching away over the horizon and into the haze. The skies were so clear today, it was crazy. Apparently we're having amazing luck with our holiday - only one night and one day of rain so far *touch wood*.
The entire trip to Franz Josef, it was difficult to concentrate on the road. In Australia, you drive for hours between landscapes. Here, every 20 to 30 minutes everything changes. You'll be winding through rainforest and then BAM you're cruising down a long country road into farmland, bordered by the kind of mountains which "gigantic" and "enormous" and "awe inspiring" do a bad job of describing and then BAM you're on the coast and BAM you're crossing a bridge over alpine rivers, the craziest aqua colour. It was 4.5 hours of perfect photograph moments. That said, I only stopped a few times because I'm getting used to the idea of passing up photo opportunities for the sake of arriving at our destination within a month of motel check in.
Somewhere along the way (I can't remember where exactly) I just totally randomly decided to take a side road and see where it lead - something a lot easier to do now our GPS is working. Almost immediately we plunged into this tiny little dirt-tracked tunnel of forest, so narrow you could reach out the window and grab a handful of leaves, and then just as suddenly we emerged to see this:
EDIT: The photo didn't work out well. Will repost later.
We're starting to learn that New Zealanders either don't like advertising their many spectacular locations, or they're simply spoiled for choice and don't consider it anything all that great. This lake was so serene, there were a couple of other people strolling around, and some old dude out on a boat fishing, so we just sat there in the wet grass/flowers (did I mention there's wild flowers EVERYWHERE?) and stared out over this lake to the mountains. I could have just set up camp there for two weeks, kind of took my breath away. I think the photo is a bit oversaturated but I can't tell on this stupid laptop.
From there we crossed more coastal mountain passes, with some views like these:
Yodel a bit. It seems appropriate.
Over and over again, the kind of views that make you want to wind down your window and scream "FOR FRODO!" at the top of your lungs. Or maybe that's just me.
When we got into Franz Josef, the view was no less awesome. The town itself is walled in with mountains, and our motel backs onto rainforest that rises up to snow-capped peak.
Step outside and look left, this is what I see...
To end the daylight hours, we went to the Franz Josef glacier. After reading some depressing stuff about global warming and the depletion of the glacier, we wandered one of the many available paths (gonna do another tomorrow) and took some photos of the glacier. Words do not describe, which as always frustrates me beyond reason that I can't adequately express the experience of looking at it. It's just... way bigger than you'd expect, way higher up, so steep and white and blue, so majestic... You just have to come here, and see it for yourself.
The Franz Josef glacier as viewed from the
SomethingOrOther Pools (I really should note
this stuff). You can only just see the glacier in
this photo, but I'm going back tomorrow to get
a photo from a closer point.
Now we're getting ready to go out to dinner and then we're off to the local hot springs. It looks heaps nice, but I'm trying not to consider what it's going to be like when we get out of the water :(