• 04 . 01 . 07
  • In Manchester, you have the curry mile, a semi-misnomered kilometer stretch of curry houses and jewelery shops. In the same vein, Hokatika could be the Jade Square Mile. From the quaint little clocktower in the town centre, all you can see down each road are jade workshops interspersed with craftstores, glassblowing centres and, yes, jewelery […]

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Jade And Ice

In Manchester, you have the curry mile, a semi-misnomered kilometer stretch of curry houses and jewelery shops. In the same vein, Hokatika could be the Jade Square Mile. From the quaint little clocktower in the town centre, all you can see down each road are jade workshops interspersed with craftstores, glassblowing centres and, yes, jewelery stores. I awoke, still alive, still free and still not frozen, albeit with a healthy dose of condensation and a coldness in my bones that I anticipate will be a daily occurrence in later years. Sleeping in cars: frugal – yes, comfortable – not exactly, and something I want to do a lot of in the future – definitely not.

After a few hours browsing around town, we stopped in at a cute little cafe to get a bite to eat. This room also doubled as the entrance to the town’s cinema, which had one showing of one movie on once or twice a week. Sadly, it had been closed since mid-December for the manager’s break, but would open again they promised on January 8th. I love the idea of a whole town watching a movie together at their single opportunity. Which is to say that I love that it happens, but love that I don’t have to do it personally…

Before continuing on south, we made a quick detour to Hokatika Gorge, which was a great decision. The sign at the entrance said there were 1080 bait traps lying around the area, which made me think they were trying to catch out of season snowboarders, but were in actual fact there to kill possums, to stop them killing kiwis. Whether or not that was the reason for the colour of the water, I don’t know, but the river running through it was opaque and turquoise like Powerade or liquidised blue Smarties. The trees were an almost neon green and I half expected an Oompa Loompa to pop out and tell me I was in the back garden of Charlie’s Chocolate factory. Well, they make every other film here, so why not? After a pleasant walk and some skimming stones off the beaten track, we got back on track and continued southwards.

Our next stop was Okarito, a town which redefined minimalism, even for a West Coast town. Consisting of one road, one campsite, two shops and… an airstrip, it couldn’t have been permanent home to more than 20 humans. It’s also home to kiwi reserve, so it’s probably best that there are less Kiwis around. Its standout feature was a nice little nature trail leading up to a lookout called Okarito Trig, from which you could see, well, more coastline, mountains and forests. It’s a little early to start viewing such beauty as the norm, but with so much spectacular scenery to be found just by driving between towns, it takes something ridiculously incredible to make you sit up and take notice. After a very welcome shower at the campsite and with Okarito ‘done’, we continued on, looking for a place that at least had a general store.

An hour later, we found one in the form of Franz Josef Glacier, a town more or less built to exploit the eponymous ice formation. Who knew you could do so much with ice?! Climb it, hike it, fly over it, skydive over it, quadbike on it or heliski down it – there are businesses here that let you do it all – for a price. We settled on a half day glacier exploration hike which we’re doing tomorrow. In terms of (limited) time and (very limited) money, it was the best choice – we’ll see how it turns out.

For dinner, we had pizza in the cool Blue Ice Cafe, where I had the privilege of watching England get the stuffing knocked out of them by Australia in the Ashes. I spent a good portion of the evening explained the rules of cricket to successive groups of bemused Americans and was even managing to convince them that In-ger-land were doing well, until some Australians sat down and told them the whole truth. I couldn’t handle the truth, so it was a relief when the day’s play ended and we could concentrate on dominoes and making the most of happy hour. During the course of the evening, we got chatting to a friendly Irish couple who offered to sneak us into their hostel lounge for somewhere to sleep. While the thought of sleeping in a car in an environment cold enough to form a glacier sounded appealing, we gratefully accepted. Tomorrow we’ll see if I cope any better walking on ice than skating on it.