About seeking gold, misspelled glaciers and pancake rocks

One of the destinations that immediately caught my eye with my Austrian ancestry, was the Franz Josef Glacier, named after Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph (whoever made that awful spelling mistake?!) who was of course married to Elisabeth or better known as Sisi. But on our way over there we first made a stop at Arrowtown.

Like Australia or the USA, New Zealand was for a while a famous destination for gold miners. In 1862 gold was found in the Arrowtown river and boom! The small town went from 1.000 to 7.000 inhabitants, amongst them many Chinese. Even to this day, you can try your luck and hire a plastic gold sieve and ‘dig’ into the river. Although I saw a documentary in which two Germans bought a claim to a piece of land, but they used so much more equipment than just a plastic sieve… So instead of wasting our time, we went ahead the find the Lord of the Rings location on this river. This is what we were looking for:

And this is what we found:

I think it comes pretty close. And it was a nice lunch stop at any rate. The town itself was actually bussing with tourists, but the centre is rather small and doesn’t have that much to offer. Mainstreet is covered in old buildings that remind you of the Wild West, but most of them now house restaurants or cafes. Not much action going on, so after a couple of hours we called it quits and started our drive up the mountain. A good thing, because it started raining rather badly while we were on the road and we were relieved when we arrived at our gecko cottage.

Thankfully the clouds were all rained out the following day, because we had quite a lot of hiking to do! Since we came here for a summer holiday, we didn’t do the multiple day on to the glacier walk but the Franz Josef Valley track. We combined it with a walk from the edge of town (also called Frans Josef!) and in the end we were gone almost the entire day.

The track is pretty easy to walk, which was nice but also meant that it was a bit overrun on this sunny day. We saw everything passing by from tourists to native parents taking their 5 year olds on a stroll. Still, the scenery was amazing and we often stopped to enjoy the views and even found a quiet nook just off the path to have lunch.

What did become clear on this walk is how badly our Earth is warming up. On several locations along the path where signs that showed you how far the glacier used to come. And not just millions of years ago, but decades ago. The first sign was pretty much at the beginning of the track, more than 5 km from the finish. And the glacier is receding even more today. Not just reading about it, but actually seeing it and thinking about the fact that everything you are walking used to be glacier makes you not just rationally realising global warming is going on and that it is a bad thing, but experiencing it almost first hand.

Of course there is also time for fun, so back in our cottage I made a small rectification regarding the glacier:

Keeping in line with our tradition of hiking and wine tasting, it was time to head over the New Zealand’s most famous wine region: Marlborough. But on our way over there we made a stop at the Pancake Rocks. Because, who doesn’t like pancakes?!

No, I am not making a (very) bad joke here, this was just obligatory lunch before we set out to the the rock formation called the “Pancake Rocks” because it is made up of very many thin layers of rock.

Until we were finished with our lunch it had been raining again quite badly, but this was a good thing today because that meant that the water was really active and gushing all over the rocks and making good use of the blowholes. Now, I thought a blowhole were holes in the wall through which wind came which in the process makes some kind of (apparently interesting) whistle noise. Well, that is not what blowholes are.

So no, this is not my video, but imagine me walking on that bridge unknowingly and all of a sudden water comes bursting from the side like this. Let’s just say, it put a whole new perspective on the word blowhole for me. Next time I’ll be sure to do my research to see what I am getting myself into…

Although the rocks are pretty amazing, the walk along them doesn’t take too long, about 30 minutes (without the viewing and taking photographs taken into account), so before we went back to the car we tried to find some glow worms at the Punakaiki cavern (unfortunately to no avail) and at last gave our legs a good stretch at the Pororari River Track. A nice enough walk, with a bit of jungle going on, but no major sights. But everything combined kept us busy all day. And we were blessed again by the weather gods! Like I said it was raining on our way to the pancakes, but as soon as lunch was finished the sun started shine, up until we finished the river track and it started gushing literally just 30 seconds after we set back in the car.

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