New Zealand / Travel

Venturing West: Arthur’s Pass, Hokitika and Franz Josef Glacier


After spending a couple of days in Christchurch, our two week road trip around the South Island with Clare and Tim had begun. The first leg was to drive through Arthur’s Pass National Park, from the east to the west coast. The scenery was fantastic, and for once the drive itself was the interesting part of the day. We stopped off at Castle Hill, where huge rocks lay in the ground, forming a strange grey landscape amidst the green fields. We then drove through Arthur’s Pass itself and stopped for a short walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. It was a lovely clear day. Later that afternoon we arrived in Hokitika, on the West coast, where we would be spending a night before heading onwards.


Hokitika is a small coastal town, most famous for being the setting of the Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries (which it is very proud of). That evening we went for a walk on the beach and watched the sunset with beers in hand. We then returned back to our rented cottage for dinner and a bit of relaxing after what felt like a long day. We had only planned to stay that one night in Hokitika, and then head South to Franz Josef (home to the famous glacier) the following day. However, things do not always go to plan. On our way from Hokitika Gorge, it’s bright turquoise waters the main attraction of the area, to Franz Josef, John the car had a bit of a meltdown. He started steaming from the bonnet and Grace had to pull over suddenly. Earlier that day we had bought John some coolant, as he tended to get a bit hot and overexcited on long journeys, but this sudden outburst of heat was worse than usual. Not wanting to go any further, we called the AA, and a young kiwi bloke soon arrived to take John to a local garage. We hopped in Clare and Tim’s hire car and headed back to Hokitika. It took the kind mechanic a long time to figure out what was wrong with beloved John, and in the meantime we cancelled our accommodation reservation for that night in Franz Josef and arranged to stay another night in Hokitika. The first hitch in the meticulously planned two week trip, and we were now a day behind schedule. Unfortunately, that was the least of our worries when we discovered that John’s head gasket had given up, and the repairs would cost far beyond what we could afford, and exceeded what John was worth by a long way. The next day we arranged saying goodbye to our lovely car. We got a lowly $100 for him from a scrap car man (sob!), and we sorted all the ownership paperwork. It was a sad day, and for the time being we are carless, and there’s a big John shaped void in all our lives.


The next day we managed to get back on track. Fortunately, aside from the glacier itself, there wasn’t much to see or do in the small town of Franz Josef, so having only one day there was actually no loss. The glacier at Franz Josef is a commonly recommended attraction of the South Island. Now this could’ve been because it was autumn, after the summer when a lot of the glacier has melted and is thus at its smallest, but we found it distinctly underwhelming. Two of our friends, Rob and Dan (who were on the previously mentioned top-notch quiz team in Taupo), had met up with us briefly in Hokitika and had expressed a similar lack of enthusiasm. The closest you can get to the glacier without paying for a helicopter ride is 750m, and so the glacier looks pretty far away. Perhaps it’s a must-see in winter, but I have to say I definitely won’t be rushing back.

The next day we were on the road once again, this time heading in land to Lake Wanaka.


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