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Friday, April 24, 2009

The TranzAlpine and the glaciers

The TranzAlpine and the glaciers

I love traveling by train. The steady pace and the slow changes in landscape allow me to travel anywhere. This time I enter the train worried. I don't want to be stuck in Greymouth, I just don't have time for that, and I don't wish that much going north. Then there's the weather problem. If the storm continues I won't enjoy things as I should and I will probably have to cancel the "great walk" i'm planning to do.

Well, I call the shuttle company and the lady tells me they have no information yet, but she can put my name on the drivers list and then he'll inform me when he gets to Greymouth if he can proceed or not.

It didn't leave me relieved but what can I do?! A british middle aged guy sits in front of me. We do the usual conversation and when the train departs I ask him if he wants me to get him a cup of coffee. He has a broken arm; he had planned to drive around NZ on a motorcycle but on the second day a car crashed into him. He seems to be a nice funny guy... Unfortunately, he speaks so fast that at certain point I only nod and stop trying to follow him! Meanwhile, the TranzAlpine leaves the east coast plains and enters the mountains. The scenaries immediately make me cheer up and relax. This is what brought me to NZ and I want to enjoy every minute of it! Steep mountains ending in valleys crossed by rivers that run in fury. The Autumn vegetation, mixed with the grey and moisty weather make things look mysterious and make my mind and imagination flow, just like the rivers down in the valleys.
I went to open wagon to take some pictures just for 10 min. There's too many japanese... I don't feel like fighting for the best spot. Anyway, the best camera is my own vision and appreciating things with my own eyes.

After Arthur's Pass, right before we begin our descent to Greymouth the rain makes its appearance. It's not that bad, but the ocean is still far. The trip is not that spectacular on this side of the mountains, so me and the english guy spend most of the time trying to communicate (Chelsea fan, he is).

Greymouth, getting my bag from the luggage wagon and rushing to the i-site to see if they have any information about the road. Still nothing... They tell me to wait for the bus and see what the bus driver has to say.

The bus driver tells us that the road is open for now, but there's no guarantees we can make it to Franz Josef. The trip then continues normally. When we are only 30 min away from our destination I see the reason for the road being cut. Simply in a 90 degrees curve to the right, when the road is following the course of a large river, there's just no road! The power of the water caused a landslide and the road ended up 50m down in the river... Fortunately these guys must be used to this because they made a gravel road just next to where the asfalt once was. I was really surprised with the bridges they have here. On a main highway most of the bridges are one lane only! Seems really primitive to me and uncomfortable.

Franz Josef

It took me a while to find the Glow Worm Hostel reception, but as soon as I find it, I leave my stuff and rush to the i-site to book accommodation for tomorrow in Fox and buy the bus ticket.

I then finally sit down in the kitchen relaxing and waiting for the free vegetable soup they serve at 6. At 6 sharp they tell us to help ourselves, and so we do.
I sat in front of an English guy, Andy, and started talking about NZ and our trips. He is also on a RTW trip. We agree on meeting later for a few beers. As we pass by the 3-4 bars the village has, we realise that it will be the same having a beer at the hostel, but cheaper and end up buying a 6-pack and sitting down in the kitchen. As we start talking, an American couple jumps into the conversation. We were talking about our plans for south america and they have just came from there. Well once again (i've heard and read it before) they strongly recommended Colombia. That was their favourite place and it's yet very unexplored in what concerns tourism, due to all the political issues. Me and Andy ended up finishing the six pack and the cider he had in his car as we started talking about music. He listens to good stuff.

The glacier
I had booked a shuttle yesterday to take me to the glacier, but since Andy is heading there as well I ask him for a ride and run to the reception to cancel the shuttle.

15 min after we parked and began the glacier walk, we reached a river. You can see the glacier from there, but it's just too far away to get the right feeling of it. So, we just took our shoes off, pulled our pants up and rushed through the ice cold water.

Before we got to the glacier we had to do it once again. Well, when we got to the barriers saying dangerous behond this point we weren't satisfied yet, so we just followed a guided tour by a side trail and half an hour later we were not only right next to Franz Josef glacier, but we could actually touch it and had we the right gear we would have been able to walk on it", for free! Nevertheless, it was a great experience and it was well worth the time.

Fox glacier
I took the bus to Fox later in the afternoon. It's just a 30 min ride. I stayed at the Ivory Towers hostel. It was an ok place, but with a strange open room door system, which means nothing valuable can stay in the room. I stay in a 4 people dorm with Max, a really nice russian guy that lives in Sydney. Later in the evening we meet Sylvia, a Mexican who is studying in Auckland and once she heard my travel plans she immediately offered to show me around in Mexico City, when I get there. Later a Dutch girl who stayed at the same place as me in Franz Josef came in and said she had just came back from a track where you can see lots of glow worms. Well I grabbed my torch and there we go, me and Max, into the dark rain forest, walking a 20 min trail without knowing exactly what to look for. But we found them! First we saw some isolated little blue lights but as we walk further we saw dozens of little lights, making the dark forest look like a Christmas tree. Amazingly beautiful.

The next morning I wake up early. My plan is to walk to the glacier back and forth in time to catch the bus to Queenstown at 11 am. It's just 8km, so two hours are more than enough for that. It was a bit disappointing this trip to the glacier. The main trail is blocked for security reasons and the other trail is being used by organized tours and one of the guides is not in a good mood and I don't feel like fighting, so I just stand there at the viewpoint enjoying the river of ice from a distance and then I go back.

Back in the hostel, I pack up my stuff and then spend an hour talking with Sylvia. We'll probably meet in Auckland and go out and party. It's always good to go out with people who know the city. I also called AJ Bungy to book the Nevis jump. I ask a few questions about my back problems. They say it is ok and so now it's settled. I'm going to jump from 134m. I must be out of my mind! At 11 the shuttle picks me up and there I am on the way to the world capital of adrenaline :)

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