New Zealand offers several options on bus travel. There are regional trains, but they have limited coverage. I think it’s because much of the landscape is too steep to make laying track easy. There are buses that operate much like Greyhound, only they have an innovative way of dealing with fares. Passengers buy travel by the hour. then book trips, and deduct the scheduled travel time from their credited total hours. There are also tour company buses that you can jump off of and get back onto at a later day and time, but they only operate along certain routes. I decided that they would have suited me well if I had more time than I did, so I bought a few hours of credit.
Waking early I checked out of the hostel and waited for the bus. If it wasn’t drizzling, it was at least overcast, and threatening to rain. The bus got under way, and I was seated next to a fellow from Australia named Tony who was also headed to Fox Glacier. Across the aisle from us were two very attractive German women (Tabea and Sabine) who were headed further north, beyond Fox Glacier, to Franz Joseph Glacier.
Recipe for making New Zealand:
Take the Pacific Northwest (the weather and the progressive culture), fill with a few Napa Valleys (including the earthquakes), drop in Switzerland’s peaks topped with Montana’s Glaciers, add on part of Norway’s coastline fjords (I’d say Iceland, but I haven’t been there yet), and part of Hawaii’s tropical coast, and a few of the fiery bits as well (which I didn’t get the chance to visit), garnish with plenty of clouds, and serve with several million legs of mutton, on two islands of less than 3/4 the land area of California, and you’d have a start. The long and short of it is that if you drive for an hour, you are bound to encounter at least two different ecosystems, and land uses. This was a stark contrast to my travels across the Australian Outback, which did have some variation, but was still essentially scrub brush desert.
After skirting a few mountain lakes that had been scooped out by glaciers to a depth of over 300m (the bottom of the lake was below sea level), we followed a river down out of the mountains into wine country. The bus stopped at a farmer’s market, and I bought some fresh kiwis, nuts, and dried fruit.
We arrived in the town of Fox Glacier to discover that it was a quaint little town consisting of a couple of hostels, a couple of pubs, a couple of restaurants, a hotel built in the 1920’s. The hub of the town was the Galcier info center, which sold gear, gave out info, and was the base for all tours leading onto the glacier.
Tony and I went to the general store, bought some veggies and pasta, and headed back to the hostel. Apparently at nearby Lake (…) was a view into the mountains over a sheltered lake that was often so still that it acted like a mirror reflecting the view. It was a 45 minute hike around the lake, so we figured it sounded like it might be a good sunset activity.
An older fellow with a van made his living shuttling people to and from the various scenic locations around town; the glacier, the lake, the airport (skydiving was big here too). We hired him to take us to the lake and pick us up an hour or so later. It was a nice hike. We met a few of the people staying at the same hostel we were. Everyone was stopped on one side of the lake waiting for the lake to get still before the sun went down. It got fairly still, but there was still a light breeze out on the lake, and a few ducks decided that this was a good time to dive for dinner nearby. Needless to say, the lake wasn’t as calm as it could have been, but I took a few shots.
We headed back to the hostel and cooked up the pasta and veggies. Tony went to bed because he was scheduled to take an early hike on the glacier. Earlier in the day I had noticed a small park close to the hostel dedicated to glow worms. I had to check it out. The worms were tiny cellophane noodles, so tiny that we had a really hard time finding them at all with a few flashlights. They lived beneath natural overhangs and seeemed to spin netlike webs. In the dark, the tip of one end glowed in the dark. The light they produced was not the day-glow yellow-green of fireflies, but more like star-light, and there were so many of them that that was the effect when we turned off the headlamps.
I stayed up and played cards with some of the folks we met at the lake. If I could remember all of their names I’d include them, but two of them joined me on a full day hike the next day: Jørrin, a neurologist from Utrecht, NL and Lee, from Israel. We stayed up fairly late, playing a fascinating game called Set, and of course, the travelers’ standard: “Sh*thead.”