It’s been more of the same here in Franz Josef for the last week now. Hiking, glaciers, the beach, hot pools, fishing, big meals and music are the order of nearly every day. If only the weather would cooperate more. I was going to leave for Queenstown today, but it’s raining cats and dogs and I really don’t want to go get drenched standing on the side of the road waiting for a ride. Though I’m sure that the drowed bear look would induce much sympathy and quickly get me picked up. Anyway, it looks like a few more days of rain and then I’ll try and get out of here. It’s always hard to leave a place that fits you so well…..especially when it’s raining. We’ll see maybe Queenstown by Monday. In the meantime here’s some pics from Franz:
After my stellar day hitching from Nelson down to Graymouth, I was deeply disappointed by a 30km day that found me waiting in the rain for over an hour twice before giving up and finding a backpacker hotel in Hokitika. The next day however found me in the backseat of a car with a couple from Peru that had taken 6 months off to go traveling. They got me all the way to Franz Josef and dropped me off in front of the Glacier Guides where Delaware Johnny works. Delaware Johnny is an old bluegrass pickin buddy of Tate’s the he had met years ago in the Ecuadorian jungle. I’d been hearing about this guy for years, but we’d never met. I knew that he was just 1000 miles away from Whangarei, so meeting up with Johnny was my main goal for my current little expedition. Johnny was up on the glacier guiding a tour when I hit town, but he instantly recognized my guitar playing fuzzy self across the street in the little park when he got back.
So Johnny and his roommate Greg take me back to the house to get situated then its off to one of the guides going away party and I get to meet just about everyone in town right off the bat. It was a great time, pickin and eating cheese steaks cooked on an old cast iron sawblade laid over the fire. The next day Johnny got me on his glacier tour, so we spent 6 hours out on the ice. It was a great tour, with Johnny leading a group of 11 of us swinging his ice axe almost the entire time cutting steps and ensuring a secure route. It was amazing just being out on the glacier, but we got to also hike through a crevasse for a while and go through 2 ice caves….absolutely spectacular!
Fortunately both Greg and Johnny have the same two days off, so along with Alex the banjo player and a couple other guides we took off the other day and drove the 3.5 hours down to Wanaka to do some climbing. Unfortunately my camera battery was dead and my charger is on Bodhran, so I didn’t get any pics on the way down, but the scenery was amazing. We spent two days down there pickin, climbing and then pickin some more. I got my first two rock climbs in since I was in the army in Korea 14 years ago. Just a 12 and a 13 on the NZ rating scale, but it was a lot of fun. Most of the time I sat down below and played guitar while everyone else was climbing. And speaking of playing music, we were waiting for the 8:30 showing of Burn After Reading at this great little theater/pizza place that has a bunch of old couches and arm chairs for seating. We had 30 minutes to kill before the movie started, so Alex, Johnny and I were playing on the grass outside when up walks Bob from Kelowna BC who just happens be a flatpicker in a bluegrass band. Well there wasn’t enough time before the movie, but we agreed to meet up at a cafe after the days climbing and play some music. Turns out to be one of those fantastic nights where we end up playing for 4 hours with round after round of beer showing up and a big crowd of people hanging around while we’re just having a great time playing music. We didn’t make it out of Wanaka until almost 11 and thank God Ned wasn’t playing music (wasn’t drinking free beer) so that he could drive us home.
I’m back in Franz Josef again now. This is just too good of a scene here to move on too soon. I’ll probably stick around for at least another week before continuing on again. The next question will be, do I continue south? or is it time to get back to Bodhran?
A few people along the way said that I’d have a problem hitch hiking on the south island. Well nuts to that. I just had a great day on the road. I took the ferry across from Wellington to Picton yesterday and caught a bus into Nelson. This morning, I took off from my hotel and walked to the edge of town and stuck out my thumb. My first ride came from a horticulturist/web designer. Strange combo huh? Well he figured that I’d have better luck if he took me 10km down the road to the other side of the next town. Not a long ride, but he dropped me off in a good spot. From there I got picked up by a woman driving from Nelson down to Christchurch for her daughter’s birthday. I certainly could have gotten a ride all the way to Christchurch with her and probably even a date with her daughter, yeah she loved me. Funny how many people always wanted to go sailing and can’t get enough stories while giving me a ride. She dropped me off at the junction with the road to the west coast where I got a ride with an Israeli couple, who just happen to be programmers who quit their jobs and are traveling for six months. They were heading to Westport and it was only 1pm, so I had them let me off at the turnoff into town where I got a short ride from one of the local radio djs who dropped me off at a good spot in front of his house .
I turned down one short ride, then Greg from Graymouth happened along and picked me up. Greg had just been snorkeling for crayfish and paua (abalone). He’d gotten a few of each. Turns out he loves the water and intends to go cruising when his son gets out of school in a few years. So we’re just minding our own business chatting about cruising when he sees a buddies ride parked on the side of the road. We had to investigate. So we climbed down a steep hillside through some treacherous blackberries to find Phil diving for crays himself. Greg suits up and I play bucket boy while we get 3 more crayfish and a few more paua. Phil took off while Greg was snorkeling, but when we drove away we cruised by his place for beers and crayfish. Finally Greg dropped me off in Graymouth, halfway between Nelson and my destination in Franz Josef, with a crayfish and two pauas at a great little hostel that he knew. I then proceeded to cook up an amazing seafood dinner, with plenty to go around in for a beverage or two. So five rides, a nice sidetrip and an awesome meal. Yeah hitchin on the south island sucks.
So after my grueling hike through Mordor, a little rest and relaxation was in order. So Morgan and I walked the long way around through the baking sun to the Medieval Festival, which of course was also in the baking sun. Fortunately for us, the long way around passed by an excellent swimming hole in the river with some nice little ledges to jump off and an island to swim out to with a good jumping tree. More entertaining was the bungee jumping platform high up on the canyon wall upriver from our swimming spot. Unfortunately between the hot sun, the potent mead and being worn out from the night before we didn’t last long at the Medieval Fest, but the children’s melee was certainly entertaining. It was basically 100 screaming kids with foam swords on the jousting grounds beating the crap out of each other and the few adult supervisors. Ahh good times.
The next morning I took set out down highway 1 with my thumb out to try and make my way down to Wellington. I only stood around abut 15 minutes, but my first car to stop offered me a ride to Napier if I wanted it. Well Napier isn’t exactly on the way to Wellington, but it’s not too far out of the way either and hey I’m just exploring around. There’s no reason not to sail downwind if the wind starts blowing out of the other direction.
Napier is on Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the north island. Apparently it was destroyed in an earthquake in the 30s and then rebuilt primarily using Art Deco architecture. The Criterion Hotel where I was stayed was a beautiful example and was one of the nicest hostels that I’ve stayed at. The weather wasn’t great, so the beach wasn’t that appealing, so I holed up in the hotel the first day learning a few new tunes and then put them to the test the second doing some busking on the downtown maul area. It was a long walk from Napier back out to the highway, so I broke down and bought a bus ticket to Wellington. Fortunately an hour and a half of busking just about paid for it, so I’ve still spent almost nothing on transportation from Whangarei down to Wellington.
Right now I’m in Wellington. I met up with Jeffrey who I’d first met up in Tonga and hung out with a few times since. I’ve been staying at his place and been having a good time exploring Wellington. Wellington is certainly a very cosmopolitan city, with tons of ethnic food, museums and a great waterfront. I tried my hand at a little busking here too, but it was raining and I didn’t do all that well. Interestingly enough I had to get a Street Performers License to busk here, and of course I wanted to be leagal, and since it was free it seemed like the right thing to do. From the drawing on my license, it appears that I’m now fully licensed to sing to the moon, juggle and breath fire! How cool is that?
I’m catching the ferry today for the south island. It’s 3 hours across the Cook Straits, which is one of the gnarliest bodies of water on the planet. Should be fun. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a ride to Nelson today. Here’s hoping.