Friday, January 7, 2011

Travel Journal: 7th January

From the pages of my diary:

Friday 7th January: Feria after the Epiphany (would that it were still the old Octave)

Arising at six, I strolled out onto the balcony of my room: though the sun had not yet risen above the peaks of the Remarkables, the light of morn was bright and strong, and inspiring for Lauds.  Breakfast done, time to board the bus for Franz Josef.

Bizarre interlude number one – I have been amusing myself trying to put N.Z. placenames into Cyrillic: thus Queenstown is Квинстаун, Kvinstaun; and my objective for to-day, Franz Josef Glacier, is apparently Ледник Франца-Иосифа (thanks, Wikipedia); which I reach via Ванака and Хааст.  I can't wait to get to Крайстчёрч, Kraystchyorch!

The road threads its way through the Kawarau Gorge, and I marvel that eighteen months ago I drove through this.  On the bus one can relax and take in the scenery; last time I deliberately focussed on the road.  The Kawarau River is in spate.  Further on, Wanaka was a brilliant spot to visit, with Lake Wanaka whipped up by winds off the Alps, every wave white-crested, and surf breaking over the beach onto the grassy sward by the waterfront, the lake being swollen by the recent heavy rains that have hammered the South Island, and in imminent danger of flooding.

The road ran north by Lake Hawea (also high) and then back to the northernmost reaches of Lake Wanaka.  All along, the scenery was magnificent, with mountain after mountain: to quote an Australian poet, they "raise their torn and rugged battlements on high".  The Haast Pass was something, with beech forest grading into rainforest, and ever the peaks so high above, all streaked with landslides and waterfalls.  Mountains and rivers here are wild, still eroding rather than long-eroded as the gentler, older landscape of Australia.

What providence: to-day and this weekend the West Coast is having fine weather, after three weeks' rain, and in a climate where it normally rains every second day, and has 5 metres or more of precipitation a year.  It is gloriously sunny.  Afternoon tea at the South Westland Salmon Farm: quite the best smoked salmon with cream cheese and red onion.

Mount Cook is the snow-covered peak just left of centre

Just before reaching Fox Glacier township, we had the luck to catch sight of Mount Cook, normally wreathed in cloud (hence the local Maori name Aoraki, Cloud-Piercer).  Just after the Village, we crossed the Alpine Fault, the strikingly markèd line where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates rub against each other, and which is long overdue for a colossal magnitude 9 earthquake (the last one was before European settlement).

At last, after this eight-hour bus trip, Franz Josef township, and my accommodation.  I had time to relax for half an hour or so before being shuttled up to the glacier car park, giving me two hours (5 to 7 p.m.) to walk the two kilometres to the very mouth of the glacier, from which black forbidding cavern (as in some mediæval image of hell) issues forth the furiously churning Waiho River, the colour of wet concrete, and strewn with ice blocks.

Once returned safely to town (a village really, of about 300 souls, almost entirely given over to tourism), I was glad to find the tiny church of Our Lady of the Alps open for prayer: how convenient at the hour of Vespers.  I noted the stained glass windows either side of the outer doors featured St Bernard, for he is the patron saint of mountaineers.  A copy of the famous photograph of Bl Pier Giorgi Frassati, that keen mountaineer, smoking a pipe halfway up an alpine ascent would be a fine addition!

A sign explained that, as Mass is only celebrated monthly, the Blessed Sacrament is not in fact reserved in the Tabernacle.

Dinner followed: some excellent local whitebait, a specialty of the West Coast, washed down with a pint of Speight's Old Dark.

A correction: a pint is not the same as, but is bigger than a "handle", which in turn is bigger than a "12oz", whatever that is.

Some quick research... beer being still traditionally measured in Imperial fluid ounces, a "12oz" is 350ml (an uncommon size for beer in Australia, as being already bigger than a middy or half pint), a pint is 20oz or 570ml, and a handle must be in between I suppose (at least going on the prices).

Our Lady of the Alps, pray for us.
St Bernard, pray for us.
Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

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