Glaciers, Lakes, and Beaches

It was a quick drive to Hoki. I enjoyed two more hours of west coast scenery before we were pulling into another tiny coastal town. Hokitika was definitely bigger than Punakaiki but still didn’t have much going on. The three of us first pulled into the New World to stock up for tea that night. The hostel, unsurprisingly, was only a couple minutes away. We parked along the side of the garage and stepped into reception.

Reception was actually just a hallway with a buzzer you could ring for assistance, which none of us saw. Instead we all  just stood around awkwardly for a little bit, waiting for someone to show up. A young woman, probably a bit younger than the three of us, stepped out of a back room and greeted us. She wasn’t the owner but one of the staff, so she asked us to wait for a minute while she went off to find her.

A few minutes later another woman stepped into the hall. She greeted us warmly. It was then we learned that check in wasn’t until 4, which we all thought was rather late. But the woman did tell us that our room hadn’t been occupied the night before, so we were welcome to put our belongings into the room now. We did just that, then ventured down to the beach.

It wasn’t a far walk. The hostel actually sat right at the edge of the beach, with access right from the back door. But we took a different route. Down the street and a turn to the right took us to a walkway along the sand. The first thing I noticed was HOKITIKA spelled out in driftwood, casting long shadows across the ground. I followed Luke and Hannah off the sidewalk and onto the sand.

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The beach was littered with more driftwood. Hannah told stories of how her dad had longed to take pieces home with him when he was here for a visit. There weren’t many other people out that day. The sun was beginning to set and it was rather windy. But we had no better place to be, and there were treasures to be seen.

At the far end of the beach we came to upon a ship. I don’t think it was ever a real ship that sailed on the seas, but then I don’t know much about boats. It was silver and blue, with two masts and a large chain attached to the front. Otherwise, it was nothing very flash. The three of us walked round to the far side and up the stairs to the deck.

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I don’t think any of us really knew what the heck we were doing. I felt a bit like a teenager again. I had become one of those kids who would go to the mall and walk around and around because they had nothing better to do and no where else to be. Only my mall was a beach in New Zealand, so I didn’t feel too lame. We took a few pictures at the boat before checking out the last bit of beach left to us.

Here there were the remains of what used to be a road, I suppose. But a massive slab had been eaten away from below. Right in the middle was a gaping hole. I picked up a piece of asphalt and threw it to the ground. It shattered like some black, brittle rice crispy treat. One by one we climbed up the narrow staircase to a lookout tower set by the broken pavement. The world stretched out before us.

With no more beach to walk, we headed back into town. We looked around inside the charity shop for a couple minutes. There were used books, as usual, and this made me curious as to the other bookshops in town. I didn’t hold out much hope, but there was one other. I parted from Luke and Hannah here briefly (bless them, they were so good tolerating my book browsing) and caught up with them again at a cafe down a few blocks.

We each bought something to munch and a drink, and let the minutes slip by. By the time we finished it was very near four o’clock, so we decided to go back to the hostel and see if we could settle in. Our host welcomed us with no complaints. Hannah and I did some complaining to each other in the room about our dead animal skin rug, but we sucked it up for one night. The three of us lounged for a while, checking emails and Facebook.

After a bit, Luke and I went out to the kitchen to make up dinner. Hannah stayed cozied up in the room. She wasn’t feeling too good. The kitchen was small, and we weren’t the only ones cooking, but we managed to get the dishes we needed, and got everything finished at roughly the same time. The two of enjoyed fried mushrooms, veggies, and other goodies before Luke joined Hannah in watching Orange Is The New Black, and I sat in the lounge reading. We all turned in a couple hours later.

The next morning we left for Fox Glacier. I’d been here once before on a bus ride down the west coast. Mom and I only spent the night, and were too tired from sitting on a bus all day to see anything the afternoon we arrived. But now I was back with a couple of experts on the area, so there was fun in my future. There was also free accommodation in all of our futures. Luke and Hannah lived in Fox for a while. Luke worked at the general store, and Hannah did housekeeping for a motel. Unlike most of our other accommodation, we planned for this one a few days in advance. With Luke as our official envoy, we got in touch with their friend, Andy, back when we were at Te Nikau.

Before we drove into Fox Glacier, we made a short stop in Franz Joseph. The only noteworthy event that happened here was Luke, Hannah and I were bonded for life with our totally awesome friendship bracelets! I felt like I was in middle school again. After that historic moment, we drove the rest of the way to Fox.

Andy was still out when we arrived in town, so we kept driving down the road to a lookout spot for Mount Cook. We’d been getting our fill of snowcapped mountains on the drive from Hoki. I didn’t really realize it until later in Fox but I very quickly slipped back into my rather jaded, take-it-for-granted Coloradan attitude about the mountains. That’s not to take away from how spectacular they were. Really I think I was just feeling pride in my own mountains back home, and staying loyal to them. Sorry, Southern Alps, I’m a Rockies girl.

With our lungs full of that crisp mountain air and our eyes imprinted with snowy peaks and a glacier, we got back in our respective cars and drove to the Rainforest Motel. I’d been warned about the kind of character Andy was the other day, and heard a few gripes about it from Hannah. He was outspoken, loved to banter, and had a habit of cutting across you when you tried to speak. I understood Hannah’s frustrations. But he was a nice guy, and was putting us up in a fancy (by our standards) room for free.

Our original plan was to spend two nights in Fox. Bouncing around to a new place everyday was getting old. In the end we stayed three nights. It was so comfortable in what was essentially our own two bedroom apartment. More than once we joked (mostly joked) about staying at the motel and working for our keep. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But a couple things did happen while we were cozied up in Fox (seriously, we did a whole lot of fuck all while we were there). Once we were checked in and had sufficiently gushed over our new digs, we hopped back in the car and drove down the same road we had taken to the lookout. This time we turned off at Lake Matheson. This particular lake, one of the placards informed me, is famous for how mirror smooth it can be. When the water is still, it holds a perfect reflection of Mount Cook on its surface.

(A fun little aside: I bought a few postcards in the general store before we left, one being of Lake Matheson with the mirror image of Mount Cook. I was looking at it once and wondering why the edges of the mountains and trees were so pixelated. Turns out I was hold the postcard upside down and was looking at the captured reflection. That lake is good.)

There’s a nice walking trail that goes around the lake, and there are several lookout spots to grab photos at. It was a near perfect day for it. The water was still, the sun was out, but a few clouds refused to let the mountain come out to play. That fact aside, the walk was peaceful and quiet, not counting the family with young kids that periodically caught up with us. Our evening was spent cooking up dinner and watching “The Chase” on our very own TV.

As the name suggests, there is a glacier near Fox Glacier. This was our outing the next day. It was a short drive up the main highway to the carpark. That’s where the real work began. In order to see the glacier, we had to pick our way across a rocky river bed. That was easy enough. But then came the very steep and even rockier hill up to the viewing area. I’d decided back in the Pinnacles that loose, shifting, rocky climbs were the worst. Ugh.

The glacier itself wasn’t very impressive when we finally made it to the top. I was glad I’d seen it yesterday from the Mount Cook lookout. It was much more majestical-looking there. We ended up taking more pictures with the metal cutout of a ranger, who we named Steve, than the actual glacier. Well, that, and taking a bunch of pictures of each of us, rapid-fire, while we shook our heads and made weird faces.

Now with a slew of hilarious and potentially embarrassing pictures of all of us, we were off to see some folks and have some lunch. We stopped into the general store so Luke and Hannah could catch up with some old chums, and talk some smack about the new English lad they had working for them. Then we popped next door. The Brits got themselves a tasty pizza, and I enjoyed a flavorful wrap for lunch.

When we’d finished lunch, and after I totally biffed it walking down a flight of two steps (fell right on my ass, I did) we returned to the motel and proceeded to enjoy another evening of doing absolutely nothing. We watched more TV, played cards, had a couple of beers and slept.

Our last day in Fox was the least eventful one. We took Andy out for lunch as a thank you for letting us stay for free. The majority of the day was then spent back in the room waiting for evening to roll around so we could hit up the pub for some live music. It’s those kind of evenings I’ve been missing lately. Going out with good mates, enjoying a beer, and talking about whatever comes to mind and sharing ridiculous stories.

Before we left the next day, the three of us paid our dues and helped Susan (I believe that was her name) clean rooms. When the rest of the motel was sorted we cleaned our own room, packed up the cars, and said a bitter farewell to Fox Glacier. Looking back on it now, that might be the time I enjoyed most while traveling with Luke and Hannah.

~Ren

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