Text read by Mary Peters

Geneviève continues on her travels around New Zealand.

We left Wanaka in the early morning for a very long trip. It was a day trip travelling through the mountainous area in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Originally, Wanaka was called Pembroke. In 1940, it was renamed Wanaka. It means sacred knowledge or place of learning in Māori. Lake Hawea is named after a Māori tribe. The mountains are the height of the Alps. Between Macarao and Haast is a very Alpine landscape. At one point, we crossed a causeway between two lakes. On one side was Lake Wanaka, the other Lake Hawea. 

We stopped at a farm near Mt. Albert. It was in the middle of nowhere, and the farm had a small restaurant. On the plains, bulls were eating the healthy New Zealand grass. The cows live in a breathtaking spot. But they don’t realise that. The farm was enormous, and to herd in the cattle, the farmers used quad bikes. 

We continued down the road to Haast. Roads in New Zealand are comparable to a Route Nationale in France or a B-road in the United Kingdom. The majority of vehicles are busses and trucks with only the occasional car. It is a beautiful, empty area.  

Before arriving in Haast, we stopped at a salmon and trout farm where we tried fresh salmon. It is not as orange as European salmon but has a more apricot or very light pink colour. It depends on the feed. 

Haast is a tiny village with a mere 84 inhabitants. There is only one bridge to cross from the east coast to the south or vice versa. The Haast Bridge is very narrow, and traffic passes each other using several bays. We didn’t see the actual bridge because the scenery was so spectacular. 

The weather on the South Island of New Zealand is very changeable. When the cold weather comes directly from the South Pole, it brings much wind and rain. The Tasman Sea can be incredibly rough and violent. The landscape and the colours are different. Because we are so close to the south pole, the angle of the sun is much lower. The rays are more intense. Everything is eye-catching. The Kiwis know they live in unique environments, which is why they protect them so much. Tourism is channelled. You cannot really get off the beaten track because of nature protection. The country has a nationwide regular bus service also used by the locals. You have to reserve your tickets in advance. In Spring, there are not so many busses.

After Bruce Bay, we entered the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. At 3,754 metres, Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. 

Then, the landscape changes. There is a rainforest. The mountains are still there, but the rivers carry a lot of sediment and flowed in torrents. The roads become narrower until there is only one very narrow road which goes to Franz Josef and crosses the one bridge outside of town. The weather can be unpredictable, and a few days later, a freak storm destroyed the bridge. The town was cut off, and the brute force of the storm had also changed the landscape. 

We arrived in the early eveningFranz Josef is really a helipad with a village connected to it. It is smaller than Cleebourg but more international because of the wide range of tourists who visit it. 

Our host was a Māori. She looked darker, had jet black hair and many tattoos. She had a beautiful face, and she sang Māori songs, which she had learnt from her mother. In her bathroom were traditional Māori products, made from special herbs and plants. The smell was sweet. Her husband was an immigrant who spoke more slowly. 

She wanted to know if we had had dinner because there was enough left for two other people to share what she had cooked. It was all very uncomplicated. For breakfast, we ate what was available. We were shown the fridge and told to help ourselves. But she cooked the eggs herself. All their guests are integrated into family life. They have a spare room, which they rent out for a few dollars if somebody books. If not, well, that’s ok.  

The next day, we took the helicopter flight to the glacier. We were 2 couples and a female pilot. 

A “slightly oversized lady” had the chance to sit in the front next to the pilot. 

When the helicopter ascended, we could see the river with the sediments. Flying closer to the glacier, you could see the effects of climate change. Climate change has definitely left its mark. The glacier is receding. Once we were close to the glacier, the pilot flew just above the surface. The colour and the structure of the ice were shades of white, blue, green, and grey. The effect of looking at the glacier is magnetic. 

There was also dust and ash that had been blown over from the Australian wildfires that raged whilst we were in New Zealand. 

We landed on the glacier and went for a walk. It wasn’t too cold, but also our excitement made us forget the temperature. The glacier flows down into the rain forest and then into the ocean. That is what makes this region so unique. The entire trip lasted 45 minutes, with 20 minutes spent on the top with the panoramic view. Had we not done this, we would have regretted it forever. It was worth every cent. 

In the afternoon, we walked along on a trail in the bed of the glacier. There is also a clear earth fault line, showing that this is an earthquake area. This point was the furthest we were allowed to go. 

In the evening, our host recommended that we go to the hot pool. They were designed in stages. There were 7 pools, each at a different temperature, from 37° to 42°. They were covered by a glass dome to stop leaves from falling into the water. It was perfect relaxation to an eventful day full of action. It was great for the body and soul.

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