The West Coast of the South Island

Today was the day that I would check off another item on my bucket list: driving the west coast of the south island of New Zealand. Hayden and I woke up in our tent, left our campsite, and ate breakfast at the Punakaiki Tavern and Bistro. Breakfast did the job and we were on the road at a reasonably early hour.

Back on Great Coast Road, the views of the coast were, once again, incredible. The little Barina was enjoying its time on one of the greatest roads in the world. Following Great Coast Road, we passed through Graymouth and went past the turnoff to Arthur’s Pass, this time continuing on the west coast. The west coast road turned into Glacier Highway, which would shortly be passing Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.

Doing some research, we decided that Franz Josef Glacier was more worthwhile glacier to see, since we didn’t want to take the time to see both. There were a lot of angry, reckless cars in the parking lot, indicating to us that this place was frequented by the tourist type. (“MY TOUR GROUP NEEDS TO SEE THE GLACIER!!!” *tour bus cuts off sedan to park in one of several open spaces*)

Despite the tourist vibes, we went ahead on a 1.5 hour return trip to see the glacier. Apparently, if we wanted to actually walk on the glacier, we would have to pay money to go on a helicopter ride. The hike itself was enjoyable, even if the weather that day was gray and dull and mildly drizzly. Unfortunately, I was beginning to get the feeling that I should lump glaciers in along with lighthouses and waterfalls. Along the trail, there were several waterfalls with people clustered all around them. (“I NEED A PHOTO WITH THE WATERFALL!!!”)

At the end, I found that I had enjoyed the journey a lot more than I had the destination. The glacier was a bit of a lighthouse. You see it, and then you go away. The waterfalls were actually rather peaceful, however, if you removed the wild tourist obsession from the picture. On the walk back, Hayden shamefully admitted to me that one of his college essays had been about a waterfall.

Continuing on Glacier Highway, we found ourselves in a race with a Toyota Corolla hatchback.

“I’m more efficient!” growled the Corolla, showing off its improved fuel economy. “And there’s 20 percent more luggage space in my hatch!”
“Ha!” The Barina scoffed at the dull, silver Corolla. “You think you can beat the fastest car in the world? I’m a rental car.”

Just kidding. This was a typical case of a car that was painstakingly slow through the corners and willing to exceed speed limits in the straights. In the very beginning, we passed the Corolla after trundling behind it through several turns. But in a foreign country, we in the Barina wanted to follow the speed limits. The Corolla, angry that we had passed, did not share the same sentiment.

In the Barina’s rear view mirror, the Corolla’s driver glared menacingly. “How dare you pass me?! You haven’t yet seen my secret weapon…” The driver’s foot undramatically depressed the accelerator pedal.
“Any fool can drive straight!” the Barina muttered.

The Corolla had the uncanny ability to speed in the straight sections, making it difficult for the Barina to impress upon him the fact that he was slower. After passing a few big, slow-moving trucks and RVs, Hayden and I thought we had lost the Corolla. But there he was, speeding after us down the straightaway. “It seems like he’s actually trying to catch us,” I said to Hayden. “I think he is,” Hayden replied.

Hayden and I brought back our “rally racing” game. I knew that any sort of corner would slow down the Corolla, no matter how sloping it was (he was one of those terrible drivers that speeds to the front then goes slow), so it was just a matter of waiting to get out of the straight sections and into some curves. Hayden used GPS to find the next series of corners and we anxiously waited out the straight sections. The Corolla was right on our tail. We feared that he would pass us, we’d get into a curvy section, and he’d slow us down to a glacial speed. However, luck was on our side, and we made it into the corners without being passed. After the first two very gradual, sloping turns, we had lost the Corolla. Eat our dust!

“The road — what is it doing?!” the Corolla screeched, braking hard into the turn. “What is this madness???”
The Barina glanced at its speedometer. 2 kph below the speed limit. Good — another wholesome, law-abiding day. “Fool,” the Barina laughed at the Corolla.

IMG_9490 (1)
The Hard Antler

It should be noted that the entire process of meeting the Corolla and then losing the Corolla took over an hour and was all very exciting. Hopefully I’ve conveyed that for you. After that, the weather cleared up and we had a lovely rest of the day driving in to Haast. Originally, we had planned to camp again in Makarora for the night, but Makarora was 2 hours farther than Haast and we didn’t feel the need to camp again. The Heritage Park Lodge took us in for the night. By the time we reached Haast, we were starving, so we ate a hearty meal (garlic bread, steak, burgers, french fries, and raspberry ice cream sundaes were involved) at the Hard Antler Restaurant next door to our lodge. Afterwards, we relaxed in our room — I blogged some more, go figure — and did some much-needed laundry.

It had been an awesome day! The Barina had successfully beaten a Corolla and I had driven on one of the best roads in the world. Hayden and I decided that we much preferred the roads in New Zealand to the roads in Tasmania (and Great Ocean Road was nothing compared to either of those.) The roads in New Zealand were still beautiful and fun to drive, but less hazardous than those in Tasmania. All in all, New Zealand rocks so far.


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