Saturday, December 5, 2015

5 Dec 15 – Day 6 (Hokitika and Fox Glacier)

Today we went to the town of Hokitika to see the greenstones and glassblowing. We were dropped off in front of the shop called Westland Greenstone and were told to gather back at the same place after 45 minutes of free time. Cynthia told us that we could use the toilet facilities there and that we could pop into the workshop to see how the craftsmen turn pieces of greenstone, which the Maori called the pounamu, into beautiful pieces of jewelry. There were two craftsmen inside the workshop, one older and one younger. The group of us moved around them to see what they were doing and took photos of them while they were at work. Then we moved out of the workshop to browse the retail section. Most of the jewelry were either pendants of Maori designs with specific meanings or bangles or dangling earrings with hefty price tags. Those with affordable price tags were mostly greenstone chips that were leftovers from making the nicer jewelry.

I was hoping to get something affordable that I will wear often as a memento of this trip so I walked around the shop till I stopped in front of a counter where a basket of rings was. Inside were plain greenstone rings of fixed sizes and surprise, surprise, there were also beaded rings made with elastic strings which fit my pinky finger. Stood there to try on the rings and SWT was standing beside me, helping to pick out all the beaded rings. After trying on a few and asking her for opinions, I finally decided on my purchase and went to pay NZ$18.60 for it. Showed Cynthia my purchase and was surprised to know that she also wears pinky rings and she even has one on each pinky finger.

Left the shop feeling happy and we popped over to another shop that was recommended by Cynthia for their real fruit ice cream. We were told beforehand that the ice cream cone would be pretty big and were advised not to eat that at the last minute. The flavors of the ice cream available depended on the type of fruits and vegetables that the shop has for the day. As I was still full from breakfast, I didn’t buy the ice cream. For SWT, ice cream was no problem for her no matter the size and hence she bought herself a pumpkin flavor one as suggested by me. The cone was indeed huge and I helped her hold it while she made payment. The shop has an ancient looking cash register and SWT quickly took a few shots of it. The shop owner suggested sprinkling some spice powder onto the ice cream and so I did.

SWT offered me a bite from the ice cream and it was heavenly. The pumpkin flavor was strong and the spice powder brought out the flavor even more. We moved out of the shop, strolled along the main road and I suggested checking out the glassblowing studio since Hokitika is supposedly famous for that too. The shop was pretty big but no customers inside, only two sales staff were there cleaning some displays and arranging them. As SWT was still eating her ice cream, she was not allowed to go into the shop so I went in alone. Most of the displays were big size items with hefty price tags. Those that were smaller size such as cups, bowls and figurines also didn’t come cheap. The only affordable items were the clear glass spoons placed on the cashier counter. I was tempted to get one as memento but the rationale side got the better of me which I was pretty grateful.

Left the glassblowing studio, strolled along the main road again to see what other shops there were. Nothing much and we went back to the first shop where we were supposed to meet and wait for the coach to pick us up. As it was almost time, many members were already at the shop, some went to make use of the toilet facilities again. I went to a nearby greenstone shop to browse. There were no customers inside the shop and since from the previous shop I knew that average price of the items were at least three-digits, I zoomed down to the section where it said “Sales”. Same as the previous shop, sales items were those pendants made out of greenstone chips. Saw the earrings stand near the cashier counter and went over to take a look. It was there that I saw the pair of greenstone ear studs that I was eyeing on from the website before the trip. Quickly made payment and was trying to hurry up the cashier using my mental strength. Plonked the purchase into my bag and hurried out to rejoin the group.

The coach came and we all went onboard. After 2+ hours, we reached the town of Franz Josef for lunch and it started drizzling. Cynthia recommended a few restaurants to the group for lunch and those of us who would like to take the helicopter ride up to the Fox Glacier had to follow her to the tour agency office to check if the weather condition for the day was suitable for the ride. As it turned out, the weather condition was not suitable then and not for the rest of the day. So the few of us then followed Cynthia to this restaurant called Full of Beans to have western lunch. As we had no idea how big the portion was going to be so to be on the safe side, we decided to just order a plate of fish and chips to share and then decide if we need more food after we finish. Turned out, the portion was just nice for the both of us and the good lunch helped pushed the earlier unhappy incident to the back of my mind. It started to rain when we were about to move off but we did not use our ponchos. We braved the rain in our outer jackets.

Got to the pickup point but the coach was not in sight so we went into a shop to escape from the rain. Browsed the shop and saw a rack full of possom-merino wool cardigans with zippers. The cardigans were on sale selling at NZ$199. I was tempted to buy but in the end did not because I have quite a number of pullovers and little big sis doesn’t like clothes containing wool materials. Soon our coach arrived and we quickly went up to get out of the rain. After all the members were on board, we moved off to the next destination, the Fox Glacier. It didn’t take long to get there from the town of Franz Josef to Fox Glacier. As it was drizzling, Cynthia reminded us to put on ponchos if we had one. SWT and I brought ours down and we left our other belongings on the coach. There was toilet facility with shelter at the so-called entrance of the Fox Glacier so those of us, who were attempting to climb Fox Glacier, headed straight there to wait for Cynthia. Some of the members made used of the shelter to try to put on their ponchos while some made use of the toilet facilities. It was drizzling pretty heavily but I refused to put on poncho and managed with just my Timberland outer shell. SWT, on the other hand, put on hers, on top of her windbreaker while some of our group members used umbrellas. Since both SWT and I didn’t need to use the toilet, Cynthia told us that we can start the climb first and so we did.

The portion of the Fox Glacier which was after the so-called entrance was mostly flat. The ground was mostly covered with stones of various sizes and since it was drizzling, there were small streams of water here and there and a very big stream flow nearby. There was supposedly a designated walking path but it was not very obvious such that we kind of deviated from it for a while before moving back onto it again. Because the area is constantly moist, lots of moss grow on the rocks and thriving very well there. Soon, we came to a small stream with rushing water. We had to choose our footings on the rocks carefully in order to get across. 

Soon we came to a red sign that says “Glacier guided groups on past this point.” We had no idea what it means. Whether it meant that only guided groups can go beyond that sign or they cannot go beyond that sign. So we stood there for a while, took a selfie while trying to decide whether we should continue. Then behind us came a member holding an umbrella in one hand and with his daughter in the other. They went past us and continued walking. So we decided to follow them with me walking in front of SWT. Beyond the sign, the ground became elevated and hence came the climb. I had to give my full concentration on the climb because the ground was wet and rocky. One wrong step on a wet and loose stone means falling down, worse, I may slide down the rocky slope. The already difficult climb was made worse when there were signs telling people not to stop in the midst of the climb in case of falling rocks. I almost wanted to give up because I was so strained from concentrating, so tired and hot from the steep climb. I was mentally cursing myself for not working out diligently. I was breathing heavily and maybe even loudly; I couldn’t tell with my hood pulled down low. 

I was so relieved when I finally reached the top and by then, I could feel my skin sticky with perspiration, the lower parts of the sleeves of my long sleeve t-shirt, sweater and outer shell wet, possibly from the rain because the drizzling was getting heavier. Took some quick shots of the Fox Glacier using my mobile phone and then the member whom we saw earlier offered to take photos of SWT and I using SWT’s mobile phone. We offered the same gesture to him but he declined. After getting some rest, we decided to head down before the drizzling get any heavier than it already was. The climb down was worse than the climb up. I had to double my concentration and treaded very slowly. This time SWT went ahead of me and I let her. No point trying to follow her pace and run the risk of slipping off on a wet, rocky downward slope. We didn’t stop to rest till after we passed the sign that indicated no stopping. It probably didn’t take us very long to get down but it sure felt like forever. While continuing down the gradual slope, we saw some members of our group making their way up. Most were in ponchos and some took umbrellas. 

At the flatland area, we saw a worker using a shovel trying to fill up some streams that were getting wider due to the rushing water from the rain. Got back up the coach and saw a few members who didn’t make the climb. SWT and I took off our outer wears which were dripping wet and hung onto the hooks on the front seats. Near our coach was a stream with some rocks exposed. As we waited, we saw the rocks getting submerged by the rushing water filling up the stream due to the rain. Soon our group members came back, we started our journey to the hotel in the Fox Glacier village. The day before, Cynthia told SWT and I that we might want to consider packing an overnight bag instead of taking our big luggage for tonight’s stay. So we did just that and hence we were able to escape into our cosy room quickly after getting the key. Once inside, we checked the facilities to make sure things are in working condition before changing out of our wet jeans to lay them out near the heater. We also laid out our socks and outer wears to dry. We even plugged in the hairdryer and used it to blow dry the bottom of our jeans. While I was drying the jeans, SWT fed me with the potato chips that she bought few days back. 

Soon it was time for dinner and we knew what we are going to have because we had chosen our items the day before. I had smoke salmon salad (because I simply love eating salmon), grilled salmon and passionfruit cheesecake while SWT had tomato soup, roasted chicken and chocolate cake. It was a good meal but unfortunately, I was not able to finish my grilled salmon because I ate a whole bun with butter before the food was served. Big mistake. Cynthia was seated beside us and told us the arrangement for the next morning. As we will be doing our helicopter ride early in the morning, she suggested that we pass her our valuables and passports for safekeeping. On top of that, we will also pass her our room key so that she can help us do the checkout as well as transfer our overnight bags to the coach. After we were done eating about 7+pm, SWT and I went out for a walk. Popped into a shop that offers helicopter ride and also selling things related to hiking. We were so amazed by the things sold there and spent quite a lot of time in that shop just looking at things. As we need to get up early the next day to do our helicopter ride, we left the shop about 8+pm to return to our hotel room to rest for the night.

Thoughts: 45 minutes at the Hokitika was simply too short. Though the town looked small, I’m pretty sure it is bigger than it looks and should have lot more things to look at and explore. The greenstone jewellery sure look very pretty, so do the price tags. I was glad the rationale side of me is strong such that I didn’t buy things that I hardly wear. Lunch was great, it would have been even better if SWT can eat a normal portion then we could have had one proper portion each without sharing.

Climbing part of the Fox Glacier was really challenging, for me at least. It was even more challenging when I had to climb it on a rainy day. The part of the Fox Glacier that we saw was not very impressive. I hope I will get a good view tomorrow from the helicopter ride. Dinner was also very good. A pity that I was partially full from the big bun even before the main course was served. Note to self, must not finish bread or bun before main course is served the next time.

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