The next day, it was off into the mountains, following a different road than the one to Milford Sound. This one led, eventually, to a winery, where we had a wine tasting. Now, I'm not a wine drinker, but I enjoyed the multi-media presentation, which included footage of helicopter flight over local vinyards and interviews with the vintners who'd created the wine we were about to taste.
We made various sight-seeing stops along the way, including a lunch stop as we crossed over the mountains, but, in the end we arrived in Franz Josef Township. We checked into the local hotel, relaxed a bit, then headed to dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had some excellent lamb, as I recall, but nothing that leaps out as something that must be mentioned.
That night, we had a walk into the local bush. There, we saw many, many glow worms. These are the larva of a type of fly. They spin a sticky thread and then glow bluish to attract prey. They are eerie and beautiful, with a blue glow that's easier seen from the corner of your eye than when you just look at them. We also spotted and photographed an Australian possum. These little guys are cute, but they're also a huge nuisance in New Zealand, as they eat and kill the local trees. We saw many possum fur products, and their pelts are a tourist industry.
The next morning was drizzling, but we set forth, undaunted, to Franz Josef Glacier. This glacier is one of only two in the world that descends into a rainforest. We trekked over dry river bedding and many small streams to the glacier itself, eventually touching it. It was a beautiful thing, with an ice cave, blue ice, and a bunch of loonies hiking on it. Not for me, thank you. It rained harder on the way out, but we were treated to some of the most incredible waterfalls I've ever seen.
We made various stops, including one to a beach where we saw New Zealand fur seals (actually a type of sea lion) and the weka, a less endangered cousin of the kiwi. Ultimately, we ended up in the little town of Greymouth. For dinner, I had some of the best venison I've ever tasted in the hotel's restaurant. Absolutely crushingly good.
The next day was a rather bizarre one. We stopped in a small town called Reefton, where we learned about its gold rush history. Tea was served to us by a group called the Bearded Miners Association who made "billy tea" in a cast iron billy over a coal fire. We also got gridle scones and manuka honey. Yum.
After tea, we were off to the local museum, which is incredibly stuffed to the rafters (literally) with the bric-a-brac of the town. Papers, clothing, rocks, shells, machines...it was a glorious mess! Finally, we came back to town center for lunch at the local tea room. A really good tomato soup and pizza...which was...nothing like pizza I've ever had. The pizza had no tomato sauce and was made with cream cheese (marscapone, I think), bell pepper strips, and chicken. Very, very tasty...but very, very odd.
After many, many stops to sightsee, including a beach on the Tasman Sea, we were back at the hotel. Dinner was fish and chips from the hotel restaurant...incredibly good fish and chips at that...and a side-order of gentle mockery when we told our waitress we'd been in Reefton that day. Apparently the place is well-known for being a bit wacky.
the next day began the final leg of our journey. More on that shortly.