Towering mountains coated in a thick layer of bushy green trees rose out of the ground whilst birds of prey with red, brown and white plumage soared through the air. Satisfied looking cows munched on the luscious grass in vast fields, rivers ran a dazzling grey path through and a goat perched on a table, perhaps a little bemused that he’d ended up where he had. Franz Josef was almost upon us and after a long and tiring journey, I was ready to explore.
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Waking up to the sound of torrential rain battering the roof and the windows, I reluctantly rolled over and left the comfort of the cosy, warm bed. I really wasn’t looking forward to the 9 hour bus trip we were having to do today to reach Franz Josef but I didn’t really have much choice. It was either deal with that or miss out on all the fun things we had planned and I certainly did not want that to happen! It was quite a challenge getting dressed and packing the rest of our things as there was no sign of the sun whatsoever which meant we were in complete darkness and a few times I caught my elbow on the bed or my knee on a table. Not the most straight forward of early starts but we got it all done, with surprisingly little noise, and soon headed out to the bus stop. I was expecting it to be a lot colder than it actually was so that was quite a pleasant surprise. At home in the UK, the rain tends to be accompanied by a chilly breeze which I was not missing in the slightest and it made a nice change from that. Unfortunately, partway there I realised that I didn’t have the booking number on my phone so we had to nip back to the hostel but that didn’t take long and off we went again. I have no idea why I didn’t have it when I had all the others and I have to say, it really got on my nerves. Grrrrrr. Stupid phone. Still, it barely took up 5 minutes of our time and 10 minutes later we were at the bus stop.
Whilst we were waiting, a few more people showed up and we spoke to them for a bit about where they were going and where they’d been. It was nice to find people who actually wanted to make conversation after the last few days in the “quite unfriendly at times” hostel and the time passed quite quickly. I thought I’d be much more tired than I actually was so was happy to talk to them. I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I prefer keeping myself to myself when I’ve just woken up but not today. Today I was ready. An hour later and the bus arrived, empty and not at all packed like the guy had said. Lucky really, I don’t think I had the energy to force my way on to get two seats together. It didn’t take long to pack all the bags so we were soon on our way and as the bus pulled out of the carpark, I had one last look at Nelson. It had been a lovely couple of days and I’ve really enjoyed myself but I was ready for some more upbeat fun and was looking forward to going to the glacier.
The journey passed quite quickly which came as a bit of a surprise. Who would have thought a 9 hour trip would fly by? 8am came and went and all of a sudden, it was time for us to have a little break. With the rain still thundering down outside, I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on that and would have much preferred to have stayed under the cosy blanket we’d brought however I didn’t have a choice though as if you’re on a bus for that long, you need to seize every toilet opportunity you get just to be on the safe side! Despite my reluctance it turned out to be the best stop ever as I made friends with a little cat I nicknamed “Crosspatch”, a cute little white and tabby striped thing which wandered over towards the cafe when everyone went inside. It was a lovely little cat and it seemed to love me tickling it’s throat which I was more than happy to do. I’d finally found a cat and was making the most of it! Of course, everybody knows that cats have attitudes and the flat ears and flicking tail told me it was quite cross and wanted to be left alone so I backed off. Another girl, however, ignored these signs and practically grabbed it’s face (in a nice way) which resulted in her being bitten.What a naughty puss. I have to admit, it did make me laugh a bit as all she’d wanted to do was be nice to it and it wasn’t having any of it. Oh dear. Not long after the biting incident, we had to get back on the bus to leave and after I’d said my goodbyes to Crosspatch, off we went into the now horizontal rain, slowly getting closer to Franz Josef.
A couple of hours later and it was time for us to get off again, this time in Greymouth. A landslide had meant that we hadn’t been able to go a certain way and so we’d arrived there much earlier than expected leaving us an hour to have a look around. Normally this would have been great but in the rain it seemed more of a hassle than anything else and again, very reluctantly we wandered off the bus. Hmmm. Now what to do? We spent a little while looking around the tourist information centre and then found ourselves visiting Warehouse across the railway tracks. It’s like a cross between Wilkinsons, Poundland and Primark so we hoped that we would be able to find ourselves a woolly hat each as it just felt so cold there, we didn’t think our ears would survive being near a glacier! It was an amazing shop, full of so many things and we succeeded in our mission, leaving with two woolly hats and a pair of woolly gloves. This had also successfully passed the time quite well and after another little look around the information centre, we hopped back on board the bus. There were a few people who we’d been travelling with who were having to get off here as we’d had to miss out their stop due to the landslide blocking a road. I felt really sorry for them as I could imagine it being an absolute nightmare to sort out. The bus driver really made the effort to sort everything out for them though, which was nice, and it was looking likely that the road was almost clear so they’d be able to get the InterCity bus back up. It was quite a refreshing change to find someone who actually really tried to help rather than leave it to others to sort out as has been the case with most of our Naked Bus services so far. I thought it might be better in the South Island and so far it has; perhaps the rest of our journeys won’t be too bad!
As we set off once again I settled down for the rest of the journey to Franz Josef. We had about 3 hours left which meant I could snuggle up and read my book in peace for a bit whilst taking in the amazing views. Or so I thought. Less than half an hour later and we had yet another break and were forced off the bus. I couldn’t believe it. Why could I not just stay on and be nice and warm? Grrrrrr. Not in the most pleasant of moods, we had a little walk around and ended up at the beach looking at some figures made from driftwood. Hokitika, the little town we were in, runs a competition encouraging people to build things out of materials like wood or sand and so the place was overrun with them. Some of them were really good, like the elderly man and the man walking but some of them just looked like piles of sticks. I couldn’t get my head around why they were being classed as sculptures at all. Perhaps it was due to my cynicism combined with annoyance at having to get off again, I’m not sure, but they weren’t great in my opinion. I suppose it gets people out there and doing something useful with their time and appreciating nature though so it can’t be so bad. I really needed to sleep to calm that mood!
Eventually we were allowed back on the bus and as we set off towards our destination (finally!) I sat back and watched all the beautiful scenery pass by the window. It was absolutely stunning. Huge mountains rose out of the ground and little rivers filled with icy water wriggled through the ground. Codie wasn’t quite as appreciative as I was as he’d fallen asleep. Despite my poking attempts to rouse him, he ended up missing quite a few good things like the tiny waterfalls cascading down rock faces and the cows running across the road, frantically trying to get back to their field. And the goat on the table. Yep, there was a goat standing on a white plastic table. I’m not sure why, I’m not even sure he did but it was quite funny to see and I felt bad that Codie had missed it. As we arrived in Franz Josef, I spotted all the places we’re going to tomorrow and I got quite excited. We’ve done a fair bit whilst we’ve been in New Zealand but this was going to be the first time we had a full day of things planned and I could not wait. Of course it didn’t seem like the most fun in the world at that stage after having only 5 hours sleep during the night kayaking and walking all day seemed like quite a challenge but I’m pretty sure it’ll be great fun tomorrow. I couldn’t quite believe how fast the bus journey went though it might have been because we had so many stops so were able to stretch our legs quite often. I think it also helped that we had a really nice, friendly bus driver who kept us informed as to what as happening and I’m hoping that it’ll be just as good as that tomorrow.
Feeling the effects of the sleep deprivation more than ever, I was very pleased that the hostel, The Chateau Franz Backpackers, was very close by and we reached it without a few minutes of de-busing. It seemed pretty good; the promise of free international calls was upheld, it looked quite interesting and there was free soup at 6 each night. So far so good. We were given our keys and sent over to a block called “The Stables” where we’d be spending the next couple of nights. It seemed alright, it was warm and dry which was always good, and after claiming the only beds left in the room, we put down our things and headed out for a walk. Franz Josef is such a tiny little place that it barely took us any time at all to walk down checking where everything was, 10 minutes in fact, and so we thought we’d have a little look at the shop.
At 6pm, it was time for our free soup and the kitchen was full of people all eager to get their share. it was a nice surprise to discover that there was also a selection of sandwiches and pastries so we each munched on a piece of mushroom pie whilst waiting. It was really very tasty. Unfortunately there was a hair in the soup which meant that I didn’t quite enjoy that as much as I’d have liked but at least we’d had something nice and didn’t have to make our own food. Hehehe. After eating, we were now so shattered that we headed back to the room to get everything ready for tomorrow whilst fighting the ever increasing need to sleep. At this point it was only about 7pm so it was a little bit too to and with so many people walking in and out of the room, it would have been impossible anyway. So, instead I’m now sitting I’m now sat on Codie’s bunk bed wrapped in my hoody and trying to finish this blog before I enjoy my tasty Cadburys fruit and nut bar. Yum. The shower was absolutely awful, more like a trickling tap, so I’ve used up my last bit of energy just trying to wash my hair! Hopefully we’ll get to go to sleep soon as we’ve got a really busy day ahead of us. It should be really good fun and I’m really looking forward to seeing a real life glacier again.