Major weather, major disappointments

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

No Internet connection for a couple of days until a stop in Haast…

January 2, 2011

We’re having lunch at Jacksons Historic Pub, established in 1868 in the small town of Jacksons, which officially brings us to the West coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

Our ride to this point has been a real disappointment. Arthur’s Pass, the drive everyone raves about, with the quintessential “Lord of the Rings” vistas, and the drive we’ve been looking forward to our entire trip, was totally blocked by clouds and fog, and hampered by rain. We’ve driven over three hours to get to this point, and I really have no idea how much further we have to go…but if it doesn’t clear up, it will take a very long time. Ironically, had the weather been beautiful, it might’ve taken us even longer, because we would’ve stopped to take a lot of pictures. But we’ve had none of that this trip so far. Major bummer, not just for me but for Kelly, too.

Our lunch at Jackson’s was pretty darn good. Seems they’re known for their home-baked meat pies, and we shared one of chicken and one of venison. This place would great to hang out in for hours, pounding down a lot of beers, but we have miles to go before we sleep…

Well, we made it to Franz Josef. It is now quite a bit later. Our trip of about 410 km (about 250 miles) took us almost seven hours. That is not unusual, even without the downpours we had to deal with over most of the trip. That’s the craziness of the roads in this country, especially on the South Island: steep, winding, no guard rails in some of the most dangerous places…just nuts. We saw no scenery to speak of, though we knew it was around us all the time, covered in mist and fog. The winding roads were a bit of a challenge for the crappy rental car we have, and I’m sure that added to the amount of time it took us to get here.

Other than in the cities of New Zealand, where you will find several lanes on larger highways, most of the rural New Zealand roads are one lane each way. Every few miles you get an area where the road widens, and it allows the slower vehicles to get to the left and the faster ones to pass on the right. We’re one of those slow vehicles!

Another crazy phenomenon down here is/are the bridges: even though you have two lanes, one going each way, when you get to a bridge, it’s only one lane wide and you have to give way to the person on the other side who got to the bridge first. Fortunately, most Kiwi drivers are polite and follow the rules of the road. But some of the longer bridges do have a wider part in the middle in case two vehicles from opposite directions face off and choose to stare each other down.

The map says that our trip tomorrow to Queenstown will be shorter than today’s…a mere 404 km vs 410 km! Unfortunately, our motel receptionist here at the extremely unfancy Alpine Glacier Motel says there’s a big storm rolling in (bigger than we’ve already been experiencing) and with it will come a lot more rain and perhaps some thunderstorms.
We wanted to see the Franz Josef glacier…that’s part of the reason why we’re here. But they’ve closed the road to the glacier–at least for today.

Our hope is that if the weather is nice enough tomorrow morning, we will drive to the glacier, to see it at least, before continuing south. Not too far from here is another glacier town, Fox Glacier, and there’s a really nice place to have breakfast overlooking Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is probably the most photographed lake in all of New Zealand because of its amazing glass-like reflected properties, with a backdrop of some of the most beautiful mountains you’ve ever seen.

Of course, it could simply rain all day and all that will be washed away. Hoping for the best. Hell, I’ll settle for mediocre!

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