Thursday, May 31, 2007 7:52 PM
part 4

Then it was off to Makarora, 130 kilometres away. In between was the Crown Range. We drove on the Crown Range Road instead of taking the highway, because it saved about 50 kilometres and a lot of time. We drove on the Crown Range Road, even though there was fog and rain. We drove on the Crown Range Road, even though there were clouds on the road. Yes. We drove through clouds. We have pictures. We are the Extreme. :-) The view, at over 1100 metres high was incredible, though intermittent: Frankton, Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, and farmland. Going up was fine. Coming down had the car begging for mercy - it's steeeep.

In Makarora was a "wilderness resort" that was cabins by the highway, and cows across the road. It was really wilderness, too - not another building in sight in either direction. We initally drove past the resort by accident, thinking that it couldn't be where we were going to stay, but when we reached the sign that said the town centre was another 30 kilometres away, we knew that we'd missed it and went back. It wasn't long before we wished that we had skipped it.

After some recent heavy rain, the fence had collapsed and the cows had escaped. They were bigger than our car. Especially disturbing was the way that they licked their lips while staring at us. Quite the role-reversal. Not that we eat beef... okay, sometimes Ling-Li does, but not very often, we promise. Not that they knew that. Not that they would believe us anyway, even if we could explain it to them. We've never heard of carnivorous cows, but we weren't taking any chances. It sounds like something from the Far Side comics. But I digress.

The cabins were termite infested, and the bathroom window had no curtain. We managed to fashion one out of a towel and a wooden spoon. MacGyver would be proud. He would have not been impressed with the $35 buffet, though, which consisted of four or five types of gloop. And it rained.

The next day begin with a 200 kilometres drive to see some glaciers. Atli and Johanna took me to see some glaciers in Iceland. Now it was my turn to take Ling-Li to see some more (she has seen glaciers in Canada and Tibet, but none in the southern hemisphere). There are two famous glaciers in New Zealand: Fox and Franz Josef. We had time to visit only one of them. Ling-Li chose the Franz Josef Glacier, it being perhaps the less popular of the two, and therefore perhaps less crowded, but we would see the Fox Glacier on the way.

It had been cold during the night, but it wasn't until we were driving again that we knew just how cold: the signs on the road had snow on them. Funnily enough, only on one side. It must have been windy, too.

We had bought a hat for Ling-Li in Dunedin, because she had listened to my poor advice ("It's Summer there, how cold could it be?" - of course, it's Winter again as I write this, but it was Summer at the time) and didn't pack one. It was claimed to be made from possum fur. True or not, it was very warm.

The road leading to the Fox Glacier has a side road leading to a lookout. It's a long road - about 12 kilometres - but the road is sealed for only the first three kilometres. Quite a surprise. Of course we kept going. There were glaciers to be seen. We reached the end of the road and we had a good view of the glacier. There were some paths leading in different directions to other views, with signs stating how long the walk would take. We took the path that said it was ten minutes long, since the others were an hour or more. The path wandered and there were various glimpses of the glacier face, but nothing quite as we expected. After about twenty minutes, with no end to the path in sight, we turned back. We checked the sign when we returned. The '1' had originally been a '4'. We hadn't even reached the halfway point.

After that little detour, we continued for another 25 kilometres to the Franz Josef Glacier. We drove as far as we could - no side roads this time - then got out and walked as far as we could. There are barriers around the base of the glacier, to go beyond which requires a guide and, in the weather that we had, heavy gear, but we had neither. Even so, the view from the base gives a good idea of just how powerful glaciers can be.

A frequent complaint from the local authorities is that unprepared tourists ignore the signs and barriers and wander around in the ice caves that could collapse at any time. Sure enough, we saw tourists in sneakers strolling around on the hillside, and later we read in the paper about two men who were trapped in an ice cave that collapsed on them.

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