Back to the town of Blackball after getting thoroughly epic’d by the Creasus-Moonlight Loop. It’s the home of the least expensive real estate on the West Coast and seemingly doesn’t seem to understand the tourism that the Great Walk is probably going to bring. (Seriously, if I were the investing type, I would buy here and set up a B&B or hostel before the Great Walk opens. You’d make a killing.)
We were pretty wrecked by our day’s adventure, having to close the loop with some km’s of pavement, and headed straight to the small store with the grumpy owners. The husband, manning the fish n’ chips fryer, seemed more annoyed at having to sell us food than anything. But then his two little doggos came out, and I made friends with them, and before long, the guy seemed to think that we were pretty okay too.
People are funny. Kill them with kindness. Or at least pet their dogs. The dogs will at least appreciate it.
We spent another night in the community center yard before heading to Graymouth the next day where we had bus reservations to take us to Fox Glacier. Someone had told us that it was all downhill to Graymouth (the mouth of the Gray River into the ocean), and then we pointed out to him that the road actually climbed out of Blackball, so there was no way that it was actually all downhill. Even discounting that hill, it still wasn’t all downhill.
Still, we made it with plenty of time to load up on 4+ days of food (we had plans! and Fox Glacier didn’t have much of a store) and head to the train station and bus station. The train arrived a dumped a whole load of what I’ll call “traditional” tourists, complete with massive amounts of luggage.
‘Please let them all get rental cars,’ we thought.
They didn’t, and before we knew it, we weren’t getting a spot on the bus. Bikes always get loaded last, and if there’s no room…well, you’re shit outta luck. There may or may not have been some cursing involved as we watched the bus drive away.
We went to the local coffee shop, pondered our options, and threw ourselves a nice little pity party. After we rebooked our tickets for the next day, hoping for better luck, we pedaled our four days worth of food far enough out of town to where camping was legal and enjoyed a nice sunset on the beach. And then we spent the rest of the night listening to the roar of waves, hoping that we were higher than the high tide mark.
The next bus took us no problem. Thank goodness. And the driver was hilarious, though once again, it seemed like we were the only ones laughing at his jokes.
Of course, the first thing you do in Fox Glacier is go and see the rapidly shrinking glacier.
The view points for the glaciers are always a little depressing. You can see where the viewpoint area has been moved farther and farther up the valley over the years as the ice has retreated.
But at least the signs were funny.
While we had hostel reservations for the next day, somewhat because it was Christmas and we wanted to treat ourselves, but mostly because it was supposed to piss rain all day, we had to find ourselves some camping for the night.
Little did we know what we’d share the forest with thousands of glow worms!
It was like sleeping amongst the stars.
Because we knew that it was going to start raining in the late morning, and we’re not so good at just accepting a chill day and going to a coffee shop and doing nothing, we pedaled out to a lake known for its tanin-aided reflections. Rumor has it that on a dead calm morning, you can get beautiful pictures of the southern alps reflected in the water.
We were there neither early enough, nor on an exceptionally calm day.
But we did get a good look at a Pukeko playing in the reeds. Silly birds.
Back in town, we went straight to the hostel where they graciously let us check in early.
‘We’re having some nibbles and beer in the main room at 6pm as an orphan’s Christmas celebration, if you’d like to come,’ the young guy at the reception mentioned nonchalantly.
“Nibbles” as it turned out, was a huge platter of meats, cheeses, crackers, candies, breads, and Pineapple Lumps. Now, Pineapple Lumps may be one of the most foul candies that you can buy, but they’re a national treasure, made in NZ and loved by…well, I’m sure there are people who like them. Anyhow, the TV commercial for them is pretty funny.
The owners of the hostel had been throwing a Christmas feast of various sizes for as long as they’d run the place as a Thank You to the guests. The owners’ son, who had been the one to check us in, came back for the summers to work. He said that the general trend of people staring at their phones instead of talking to other travelers made him sad. But that times like the Christmas feast were fun because everyone mingled and talked.
The entire hostel tried real hard to eat all the food. But we failed, miserably.
It was one of the most memorable nights of the whole trip. And a Christmas that I won’t forget for a long time.
The whole point of the Fox Glacier layover was to set us up to head up to the Copland hot springs, just 20km down the pavement…and then 8 miles up the trail. It was one of those huts that had to be reserved ahead of time, and we lucked into two spots.
The pedal was easy, the bikes got stashed in the bush. We paused to talk to a bikepacker riding the Tour Aotearoa Route. He’d just realized that he had 210 km of busy pavement with no shoulder ahead of him.
“I can’t wait till I get to Bluff and finish this route so that I can go back and actually do some fun mountain biking,” he said.
We didn’t have the heart to point out that he didn’t have to finish the route and that he could just go and ride wherever he wanted…thru hikers/riders are a funny breed.
Sometimes this place just doesn’t seem real.
If it wasn’t for the sandfly infestation, the hot springs would have been more…relaxing. But hey, you can’t always get what you want, and all we wanted was a hot spring.
The hut was an odd mix of people. The super popular ones tend to be. We favor the backwoods run down ones, but we had to check this one out. And it started up fantasies of going over Copland Pass in the future and dropping down into Mt Cook National Park. The more places we visit…the longer our ‘To Do’ list gets. It’s not a bad problem to have.
As with a lot of huts, people were in a hurry to leave in the morning. By 10am, the place had cleared out, so we went for a second soak. I didn’t hike eight miles up the valley to only soak one day.
The swing bridges were pretty cool. At the very least, we appreciated the big views that they allowed. Plus swinging over a raging river is always a thrill.
We’d spent our entire trip (and last trip to NZ) trying to get a picture of a Fantail fanning its tail. They’re beautiful little birds, but they never stay still long enough to get a in-focus picture. Mom and dad were flittering around, tempting us with brief fans of their tail, while these three babies sat and watched. A prime lesson on how to frustrate bird nerds.
There was also this guy. Introduced for hunting, I believe. But so pretty.
Our campsite was the trailhead. It was also the gathering ground for all of the sandflies on the west coast. I’ve never seen that many bugs in my life. Having them fly into the netting made it sound like it was raining. Needless to say, we spent the afternoon reading and stayed in the tent for as long as possible in the morning.
And why not just get up and ride?
Because the Intercity bus had a stop right at the trailhead, and we’d booked ourselves a ride to Wanaka. And luckily the bus had plenty of room.
And while the salmon farm tourist stop is probably hated by pretty much everyone who takes that bus route (the busses stop 5 or 6 times throughout the day for extended tourist stops for snacks…it takes forever to get anywhere), we were stoked for a hot breakfast. And to not be pedaling the west coast highway.
Once in Wanaka, we picked up Heather, who’d had her own adventures coming down the West Coast and had also opted for an air conditioned bus ride instead of pointless pavement. We showed her our super-secret camp spot outside of Wanaka and watched a stunning sunset over the hills.
It was good to be back in Otago.