New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 364 (174)
Monday 7th March (2005)
It doesn’t tend to happen very often but we found ourselves in the luxurious position this morning of not only not having to check out on time but with nothing pressing to do very early in the day. As typically happens in these circumstances, we take full advantage of the situation and spend most of the morning sleeping in (at least I did) – absolute bliss. By eleven-thirty, however, Sandy, who of course was long since awake, was starting to drop hints that I should finally get out of bed, which I reluctantly did. Since we have apparently lost track of our box of breakfast bran flakes, I had to walk across the street to buy some more. We’re making a concerted effort to eat more fibre and the new box of bran flakes is thankfully much tastier than the previous. I would ordinarily much prefer to eat cornflakes but I keep thinking of something that Lisa once told me – there’s more nutrition in the box than the cornflakes themselves.
With half the day now already gone, we were both anxious to take advantage of the good weather this afternoon and get out to do some more gold panning. The one staff member that tends to hang out here at the house is something of a resident expert in gold panning and has been an absolute gold mine (sorry) of useful information. I proudly showed him my half full little vile of gold that we had collected yesterday. He took one look at it and briskly informed me that there was barely any gold there. But look, I said, see how it all glistens, as I encouragingly held it up to the light. Yes, he said, that’s mica. Apparently, all the gold flakes yesterday that the sand and shale was ‘teeming’ with as I put it is nothing more than worthless flakes of mica. He whisked out his panning bowl, tipped my vile into it, added a bit of water and started panning the mica and other worthless debris, of which there was plenty, away. What was left after about ten seconds of expert panning was nothing more than about five or six extremely small pieces of gold nuggets. Although a bit deflated, I was still proud of my achievement nevertheless. Indeed I was now even more determined to set off again to see how much more gold we could find and to that end, he told us where the best location was to go panning. He even gave us his panning bowl to use for the afternoon. We walked over to the information office to rent another panning bowl but the office was shut – presumably for lunch. We took the opportunity to nip across the street to grab a bite to eat ourselves until the info office re-opened. When it did, they told us that all their panning bowls had already been rented out, but at least they were able to lend us a trowel.
So, off we went to go and seek our fortune on the gold-panning circuit. We made it to the spot on the river that we were directed to but the river was rather high and flowing like a raging torrent. This left us with only the high ground to pan for gold and much as we both tried, neither of us had any success in finding any actual gold – plenty of mica but no gold. We’ve both really been getting into the whole gold panning frame of mind and a couple of hours slipped by in the blink of an eye before we finally gave up and headed empty-handed back to the hostel.
Back at the hostel, all the discussions surrounded a tragedy that had happened yesterday. Apparently, a local woman was driving through some of the hairpin turns on the road near the river and her car for some reason went off the edge and into the river. Because of the high water levels, the car, which is still completely submerged, has not yet been recovered. The woman’s body is still inside it. This was a deeply sobering thought and I shall probably be paying very much more attention to the road conditions from here on in.
For the remainder of the day, we chatted with the numerous other travelling guests of the hostel. In the space of a few conversations, we learned more about the various locations and attractions on our planned route through the country than the guidebook would ever be able to convey. We’ve now settled on a plan of attack for the next three days. Tomorrow, we are going to head towards the coast and then down South to a place called Hokitika, where we will spend the night. There are a few points of interest along the way, much of which involves coastal views. The next major activity for us will be when we get down as far as the Fox glacier the following day. We may never get another opportunity to see or walk on a glacier so we’ve been deciding what to do about how to approach this. The problem is that the best way to truly appreciate the glacier is to walk on it. I’ve called around to the various operators that provide guided walks on the glacier and it turns out that the easiest method (least strenuous – still thinking of Sandy) of walking the glacier is a so-called heli-hike. Since the helicopter ride up to the glacier takes out all the hard effort of scaling it, this turns out to be the least strenuous option. The only problem with the heli-hike is the high cost at NZ$240 (€139,20) per person. If we were doing this at the Franz Josef glacier, the coast would be an even steeper (pardon the pun again) NZ$300 (€174) per person. We’ve given this some thought and have decided to bite the bullet and go for it. Although this is another serious drain on our budget, the opportunity to walk across a glacier is simply too much of a once in a lifetime opportunity to pass up. I called ahead to book our accommodation for the coming three nights. Many of the budget places were already booked out and I was lucky to get us a place to stay in both Hokitika as well as Fox Glacier. Still, we’ve been lucky enough to get a place to stay in all of the places we’ve visited so far.