Hanmer Springs & Franz Josef

23 Feb

Hanmer Springs

The drive from Kaikoura to Hanmer Springs was a bit of an adventure. We set off with yours truly driving (first time driving a minivan, whoop whoop!) and quickly realized two things: our gas tank was nearly empty, and rural New Zealand is shockingly devoid of gas pumps. The winding mountain road offered up plenty of gorgeous views – green sheep pastures, pine forests – but not enough civilization to provide a refill of petrol. I practiced coasting down the hills while Wade and Orestes calculated our location to the nearest town. We rolled IMG_5907into the tiny village on fumes, and after a bit of an argument with the self-service pump, managed to resupply. We also restocked our caffeine supply (more flat whites!) so the rest of the drive was delightful. We paused a few times for photo ops, and I scared the wits out of some sheep. Here they all are, staring at me.

Hammer Springs was lovely, a cute little town tucked away in the mountains. The main street was very quaint, with wooden chalets and tasteful stone walls. It reminded us a bit of a wealthy ski resort in the states. We spent the afternoon lounging by the river in Hanmer Forest Park. The kids splashed about in the freezing IMG_3887water, while the adults used the icy river to chill our beers. Wade dared Amelia to fully submerge, then was forced to do so himself when she rose to the occasion. Towards the end of the afternoon, we paid a visit to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools. I was expecting a relaxed atmosphere, similar to the one we’d enjoyed in Rotorau. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover these hot springs were more like a water park, including noisy slides. They were also jam packed with people. Despite this, soaking in warm water is always enjoyable.

Post-springs, we popped into a local restaurant for some delicious food combined with dodgy service. We would have wandered around a bit after dinner, but all of us were pretty beat. Unfortunately, we only had the one night to spend in Hanmer. We all agreed that it would have been a great place to linger for a few days.

Franz Josef

The next morning, we hit the road bound for Franz Josef. The road leaving Hanmer Springs wound through some truly gorgeous mountain scenery; the cloudy day left a misty haze hanging over the peaks IMG_5926that only added to the overall effect. I snapped pics from the van while Wade did an admiral job cruising through the Lewis Pass, through the foggy, windy weather. We had a brief incident with a murdered bird (which we later identified as a pakeko), but we arrived otherwise unscathed in Franz Josef.

Franz Josef takes its name from the huge glacier of the same name that lurks not far from the edge of town. The glacier was named after Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria. The ice sprawls over 12 km of the Southern Alps, the south island’s principal mountain range. We parked at the base parking lot, and headed out on a hike to the glacier’s terminal face.

IMG_5975The glacier is pretty amazing, even from a distance. It can be seen across the river valley from the very beginning of the hike, tucked into a gap between two mountains. The leading edge was covered in fog when we first began, but as we hiked closer, the sun broke through and the clouds lifted. The ice itself has a bluish tinge, overlaid with a coat of black, volcanic dust. The overall effect of the blue ice, the dark rock, and the looming mountain peaks is quite stunning. We trekked right up to the base of the glacier, pausing for selfies, waterfall pics, and a creature sighting (which may or may not have been a chamois, an invasive goat-like creature, imported compliments of Franz Josef I).

Following our hike, the men went beer drinking (are you sensing a theme here?) while Karli, the kids, and I visited the West Coast Wildlife Centre in the hopes of seeing a real-life kiwi bird. I was super excited since kiwis are nearly impossible to see in the wild; they are nocturnal, endangered, and blend with their surroundings quite well. The centre had three kiwis living in a darkened room, which sounds bizarre but must have fit the bird’s habitat needs. Snapping pics was illegal, so alas I have no photos to share. Here’s what I can share about kiwis: they are truly ridiculous little birds. Their bodies are super round, their wings are so small as to be nonexistent, and their beaks are long enough to appear out of proportion with their bodies. They run with their heads a bit forward, perhaps to balance out their body weight. They are much speedier than expected, but also comically ridiculous when they move. I was highly entertained by the kiwis, which is good since the wildlife centre boasted little else to justify their hefty entry fee. After enjoying the kiwis for a bit, we joined the men for dinner, and the rest is history.

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One Response to “Hanmer Springs & Franz Josef”

  1. Elaine McCormick March 25, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

    Awesome!

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