Franz Josef to Punakaiki

It is true, that the weather was lousy the day we drove to Franz Josef, and the road flooded in patches, but we arrived safe and sound at the Alpine Glacier Motel. It was hard to realise that mountains surrounded us, as the sky had lowered to road level. Rain, and hunger saw us drive to Alice May’s restaurant for dinner (although it was a mere 5min walk), for rain continued to fall. This is THE place to go to dine, for three reasons: the friendly staff, whitebait omelet, and to read the legend of Alice May. One of twelve children, from Hawkes Bay. She worked as a hotel maid, fell pregnant, and was rejected by her lover when she lost the baby, when he’d originally promised marriage. She shot and killed the man, and was imprisoned. The Socialist feminist movement petitioned widely for her release, and she was, six years later. Later, after moving to the South Island, she married Charles O’Loughlin and they had six children together. Jennie O’Loughlin, the owner of Alice May’s restaurant, is one of Alice’s many grandchildren. Amazing story.

Franz Josef morning

It was chilly in the morning but rather beautiful with low mist hugging the hills as we went for coffee. The consensus was that we would drive up the Glacier Access road and then walk along the valley. The rain had lightened to a soft drizzle, as we walked on a wide, well-cared for gravel path. Rain, a nuisance though it can be, does leave the greenery sparkling and fresh. Truly beautiful to see. As there was no view of the glacier to be seen, we did a loop walk instead, and following that, we decided to drive on for a walk at Wombat Lake – said to provide a great ‘mirror’ image of mountains and lake. Such a great name, and all due to an Australian chap, who earned the nickname, some years back. A could imagine him being rather stout and wearing a dark coat, like the animal he was named after. We weren’t disappointed by the mirroring effect on the water, and I just had to take this image of Kerry perched on a rock.

Lake Wombat

The following day we headed south through the Fox Glacier village and turned off towards Lake Matheson. We walked along the lakeside track, crossing fingers that the heavy mist would lift to show us the grandeur of snow-capped mountains. The viewing platform along the track is famed for superb views of Mt Aoraki and the Southern Alps, mirrored in the Lake’s surface. Alas, no fabulous views for us, that day, but I have decided to show you what you may see if you visit, and what we missed. Lunch was great however, at the Matheson cafe, and the mountain views reported to be splendid from here too on a good day.

Image of Southern Alps and Aoraki mirrored in Lake Matheson. (Attributed:Commons Wikipedia)

We returned to Alice May’s restaurant that night, well, why wouldn’t you? And next morning we were up early and packed, ready for the trip north to Punakaiki, 217 kms, about 2 hours 50 minutes drive. The weather hadn’t improved much, although I think we had all settled into ‘that being the case’, and determined to see what we could in the time we had, and make the best of things. Hokitika was a stop off point, an old gold settlement in the late 1880’s, and a rugged tough town, it was reported to be. It was brought to the fore just a few year’s back when New Zealand author Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries, was set in the area. I last visited Hokitika thirty years back, and was pleased at the town’s renewal. No trouble finding modern cafes serving coffee, and pubs pumping out craft beers. There are plenty of outdoorsy things to see and do in the area too. I had stayed at close-by Lake Kaniere on that first visit, and was keen to show family the place I’d remembered with nostalgia. I was not disappointed to see the lake again. Breathtaking in its wintery shroud. Coming to love that mist.

Lake Kaniere

I had expected to finish this post at Punakaiki, but think that I’ll save that part of the journey for a post on its own, as it deserves its own moment of glory. Too many words can spoil a blog I find. So, until next time …

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