After we left Milford Sound, we drove to Lake Wanaka and stayed the night. Our next destination was two twin glaciers – Fox and Franz Josef. We decided to drive to Fox glacier first, where we could do a day hike before finding a holiday park to stay for the night. Both glaciers are located on the west coast of the south island, so we had quite a long drive from Lake Wanaka. The drive, however, was truly stunning. We drove along the coast of two different mountain lakes, each with aqua blue water shimmering like crystals in the sunlight. It was hard for me to take in the beauty of the setting, however, because I was driving the camper for the first time; I was also driving on the left side of the road for the first time. Don’t worry, we are still alive, somehow!
After we passed the lakes, we entered Aspiring National Forest, which was equally magnificent. The rainforest covered mountain after mountain, sprawling across hundreds of kilometers. It was hard to believe that we were in the snowy ski town of Queenstown only a few days prior. Every few kilometers, one of us would spot another waterfall spilling out from the thick green forest. The most unusual and beautiful part of Aspiring National Forest was the low-lying clouds which wove between the mountains. I felt as though we went back in time; a real-life Jurassic Park.
After we crossed Aspiring, we found ourselves on the west coast. We drove another hour up the coast as massive waves from the Tasman Sea smashed the rocky shoreline. It was an amazing place to watch the sun occasionally poke through the clouds.
We finally reached Fox Glacier after four hours in the camper van. The hike to the view-point was one of the greenest, most wonderous treks I had ever been on. The best part about hiking through this particular rainforest was hardly anyone else on the trail. We took advantage of the empty trail and played a game of hike-and-go-seek; Joe had a green rain jacket that blended perfectly with the vegetaion…we each took a turn running ahead and hiding in the forest…yes, sometimes we have the maturity of middle school kids, but it was great fun. Before the glacier, there was an eerie graveyard of boulders; evidence of massive erosion over thousands of years. I found a stream weaving through the boulders and placed a little bit of Dad in it. A few minutes later we made it to the Fox Glacier lookout and I quietly left some more of Dad’s ashes on the bench. It was the perfect view of a waterfall feeding the giant ice shelf.
The others got ahead of me on the way back and I ended up trekking through the majority of the rainforest alone – it was a nice time for some self-reflection. When we left Fox Glacier, we drove to the town of Franz Josef and found a place to stay called Rainforest Holiday Park. Not only was this holiday park the cheapest place we had stayed, but it was by far the nicest. The entire camp was encompassed in a rainforest and there was a nice bar called Monsoons…”when it rains, we pour.” We ate dinner in the camper and then spent the evening at Monsoons. The bar put on a limbo contest for a grand prize of a free bungee jump in Queenstown. About 25 people tried their best to bend in awkward directions in order to win the prize. After about 15 minutes and several overstretched ligaments, I won the contest (being of short stature pays off sometimes); although I knew I would be paying for it the next day.
I unfortunately had to give my prize (a bungee ticket for two valued at $360) away because we were not going back to Queenstown. I gave it to the British girl who got second place, an action which made me a hit with her entire group. Needless to say, when it rains they pour at Monsoons, and the rest of the night I did not have to pay for anything. We spent most of the evening dancing and talking to random people from all over the world before we negotiated the rainforest maze back to our camper at 1 AM. I had a blast.
The next morning (very late in the morning), we woke and drove to the trailhead of Franz Josef Glacier. Although the hike was not through a rainforest like the previous day, crossing the open field of debris left by glacier erosion was stunning. We were surrounding by mountains and waterfalls on all sides as we trekked through the boulder field. Joe, Kevin, and Blake made it all the way to the glacier lookout, while I found sanctuary at river with the glacier in the background. I pulled out my stepfather’s ashes and smiled as I sprinkled part of him into the pure water. The ashes dissolved almost instantly. Franz Josef would be the last place I would leave part of Dad on the south island. (Pictures below!)
Driving throughout the south island of New Zealand for nine days in a camper van was everything I could have asked. The variety and beauty of scenery constantly amazed us. Often times I would look at one of the others and shake my head in disbelief. I will never forget the memories we made together at Lake Tekapo, Lake Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Fox Glacier, and Franz Josef Glacier. As I prepare to fly back to Auckland, I cannot help but feel something inside of me…something telling me that I will be back to this magnificent place again.