The next morning we met eight new people who were joining our tour, and I bonded with a sweet American girl who sat next to me. We marveled at the amazing views that were passing our window and had lots of stops to take pics of the mountains that surrounded us as we crossed into the NZ alps. This huge mountain range divides the island in two and made for some interesting crossings over the next few days. We stopped for a break in Arthur’s Pass, and sat back sipping our coffees as we drove over bridges, under waterfalls (!) and up the sides of the valley to the other side of the coast.
The west coast has rapidly changing weather due to the influence of the mountains, and we got a taste of that when rolling into Hokitika for our lunch break. The sky opened up on us as we were wandering over to the Kiwi Experience museum, and we got inside just in time. It was time to see a real live Kiwi! Kiwis are New Zealand’s wingless endangered bird, a very cute and very strange little guy who motors along the ground at night searching for little bugs with his long beak for dinner. The museum cleverly has the Kiwi on European time, so that means it was night when we showed up to watch the Kiwi go about his business. We entered the darkened room in a hushed silence – we had to be quite if we wanted to see the little guy! After a few minutes he came out of his hidey-hole and started running around his large enclosure, digging in the dirt for his dinner and generally being super cute. We must have watched him for over half an hour, laughing when he banged into things (he can’t see very well) and “squee-ing” when he came up close to the glass.
The sky had co-operated while we were inside the habitat, and it was almost sunny again as we went in search of some lunch. We also visited a Jade factory in Hokitika, watching how the artisans craft the beautiful jewelry and weaponry in traditional Maori designs. Lunch was whitebait fritters (a local NZ fish, yum), and it was only a short drive after that to our destination for the night in Fox Glacier. We went on a gorgeous walk that afternoon around Lake Matheson, and had a chance to exercise our legs and see some gorgeous views up close. The dinner at the Fox Glacier Inn that night was delicious, and I daresay I got into the wine a wee bit and had some laughs with the group by the cosy fire that evening. I was loving my group! So many interesting people from around the world, plus there were eight new people to get to know who had only joined the day before. Tomorrow: it was time to see the great white glacier.