Day 11. Tuesday. Murchison to Franz Josef.

Trip Start Oct 09, 2010
Trip End Oct 31, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Today is a big driving day, almost 350km to Franz Josef. There's not a lot to do down here, but the roads are narrow and twisty, so 350km could easily take 5 or more hours. We first make a stop at the Buller Gorge, featuring the longest swing bridge in NZ (110m long, 17m high). Steven chooses to stay behind, so the rest of us use the bridge to cross the river, and then do a short 20-minute hike in the forest, and when we get back to the river we take a zip line across. The zip line was so much fun, you’re strapped in a harness but it feels like you are flying, it was a lot of fun! There’s more hiking to do here, but we didn’t have the whole day. The 20-minute hike is really the most popular; it takes you over Whites Creek fault line (the epicenter of the 1929 earthquake). The price to cross the bridge is $5, but if you want to use the zip-line they charge you $30 per person. We also paid them $20 for the photos they took of Dirk, me and Kim. These were not great quality, but better than nothing I suppose.

It’s a bad day for driving weather wise, it’s raining non-stop. Kim and I are debating via sms whether we want to go canyon tubing in Greymouth, but the closer we get to town the less appealing it is. I’m already sick, it’s raining, and paddling in the cold river water does not sound like something I want to do. Plus, we’ll arrive in Greymouth around 12:30, the rafting will take 03:30 hours, and we then still have to drive another 180km to Franz Josef.

We have a long lunch instead, at MacDonald’s in Greymouth. This town is the largest on the West Coast, and the commercial centre of the region. The boom time for the town was in the 1860s during the gold rush and today you can still feel a bit of the character of a gold-mining town.

Our initial stop for the evening would have been Ross, 75km outside Greymouth. But that would have meant that we would have to drive 100km to Franz Josef first thing on Wednesday morning, because we were scheduled to go on the Glacier hike that left Franz Josef at 08:45. So, we reworked the route map over our salmon dinner the night before, deciding to push on and drive into Glacier Country today, sleep there, and go on the hike the following morning. Just as well, because Ross turns out to be a ghost town.  It’s another former gold-mining town that has now been deserted for the most part. The largest gold nugget ever found in New Zealand was discovered here, but apart from this fact the town features nowhere.

Getting to Franz Josef is exactly what we expected from the West Coast, it’s jungle scenery, dense, it rains constantly. We were warned about this section of the road, and we took care to drive slowly. We pass the teensy settlements of Pukekura, Harihari and Whataroa and we eventually drive into Franz Josef just after 3:30pm. There’s a dense mist hanging over the town. But it feels like an alpine resort, the whole layout of the town feels like the set of a movie.

Franz Josef township has a good range of accommodation and places to eat. It is a little service village (approximately 330 inhabitants) located approximately 5 km away from the face of the glacier on State Highway 6. There’s a reasonably sized gift shop in the main street, right next to the supermarket. Here I find nasal spray and flu-tablets, I’m feeling desperate now.  We do a bit of grocery shopping; surprisingly Franz Josef has a very decent sized store. We stock up on supplies for the next two days; apparently the road further down the west coast is very remote.  In fact, when I bought the medicine there was a sign that said "this is the last pharmacy for 300km". You just can’t count on having a Dischem around the corner…

We find a really nice place to sleep at the Rainforest Retreat in Cron Street ($35 per site, free showers), but it’s only 17:30 and still early to settle in for the afternoon so we leave one of the vans and decide to go to the glacier hot pools down the road. It’s $23 per person but what a treat! It’s three thermal pools with varying temperature, located outdoors, so you sit in this bubbling hot water while it’s raining and the mist is surrounding you. It was really relaxing and made me feel a bit better. But getting out of the water was the worst; it felt like my feet were freezing to the cement walkway.

Supper was at the campsite, a pasta and mince dish, with some of the leftover salmon that had been converted into sushi starters. Cadbury’s chocolate for dessert. Yum.

We head to bed early, tomorrow is the big glacier climb, and we’ve been looking forward to it for months.
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