The West Coast, or Why Backpackers Love a Spa

Over the past few days I have been making my way down the West coast, starting in Westport, which I’ve already mentioned. From there I’ve headed south into Greymouth, then onto into Franz Joseph and the Fox Glacier.

In Greymouth I decided to spend two nights, in different hostels and not because of the local nightlife, it is very much like Westport in that respect, but because I’d found a couple of hostels that did two very important things. The first one used to be a vicarage for a long since demolished church, and was used as a shelter from flood water when the River Grey burst it’s banks many storms ago. For this reason the people who converted it into a hostel called it Noah’s Ark. Inside the theme is expanded by wall paper showing the biblical scene in cartoon form. For once though, I’d found a hostel that hired out proper mountain bikes…for free. Bliss, at last I could go for a ride on a decent bike and not feel like I should be delivering onions. This gave me chance to explore! I found a fantastic little track that ran along the sea front, and had a good old nosey around the deserted town, looking for signs of life in the form of pubs. Well, it was Saturday night, and even the Kiwis go out on a Saturday. I found a good Irish bar and later spent the night in there talking with a group of Danish engineers. I stumbled back to my van; which I’d parked on the driveway so I only paid for using the facilities, such as the washing machine, and fell instantly asleep.

I could here a noise, like an alarm clock going off. Ignore it, someone will switch it off. Nobody did. I peeped out through the curtains, working out that a fire alarm was going off, but no one was on the street and I could’t see anything to be worried about. It was too early to be getting up, so back to bed and hope someone strangles the owner of the faulty fire alarm. Voices this time, and the alarm was still sounding. Another peep through the window and I could see people in their jim jams gathering on the street in front of the hostel. Time to get up, me thinks. The fire brigade show up just as I was pulling on my trousers. It turned out one of the Japanese tourists off the bus had left his bread burning in the toaster, setting off the alarms. Hopefully he had the good sense to go and commit ritual suicide because of the shame he’d brought upon himself.

Sunday was spent in the second hostel, which used to be a hotel called Gilmers and catered for gold prospectors and visiting mariners. The rooms were large and spacious, with wood panelling all around and heat provided by coal fired boilers and fireplaces. When it was converted into a hostel, the owners renamed it Neptune’s. They too had kept the theme running through, with photographs and pictures of sailing ships and a paper galleon hung from the roof in the main television room. This place though, felt like the owners had given up halfway through renovations. The carpets were threadbare, the spa pool didn’t work (though was still advertised) and although it was clean and tidy, you just kept noticing things that needed sorting, like a hanging bit of wallpaper or a rattling window. I kept thinking that I could do better, somehow. Other than the fact it had unlimited free internet and was two dollars cheaper to park in the car park, the other reason I came here was because it had baths. Big baths, from the time it was a hotel. After having showers (some bloody cold) in the other places, the chance to sink into a hot tub and soak for an hour or so reading was unmissable.

Monday, I hit the road again, continuing south toward the town of Franz Joseph. I was glad that I had cleaned the wipers (removing about 12 years worth of grime from them) because the rain crashed onto the windscreen in unrelenting sheets, blown over by wind that had funnelled through the jungle covered mountains. The big tourist pull for this area is the Franz Joseph Glacier. Everything is geared toward getting the punters to see the glacier. Guided tours, helicopter rides, skydiving over them, all costing about a million pounds or the selling of a vital organ. I opted for shanks’ pony, that was free, and only took about an hour from the car park to walk up to the glacial terminal, as they called the bit where the ice stopped. Over the millennia the glacier had cut a groove through the mountains, and you had to walk over a clearly signposted route through boulders and an ever changing rock strewn riverbed. Towering over me on either side, the mountain tops were hidden from view by swirling clouds. The end of the trail was roped off about 200 yards from the ice, and had signposts displaying various newspaper clippings of what had happened to fools who had gone beyond the line, and had been crushed by falling ice. Walking back, I couldn’t help but wonder why nobody was bringing a Range Rover tour up to the ice. Probably a good reason why not, but I couldn’t think of one.

Just opposite were I had opted to stop for the night, a trailer park again, was a place advertising Glacial Thermal Pools. I thought long and hard about whether or not to pay a visit, but in the end I did. I now wish I’d not bothered. For NZ$24.00 you get a choice of three small pools, at different temperatures 36c, 38c and 40c, sheltered by the trees of the surrounding forest. I heard many people oohing and aaarrring about the lovely warm waters, and I think it’s because they had not had a bath for ages. But I’d had one the day before, and now it felt wrong wearing shorts doing essentially the same thing, without a book and soapy water. You even had to pay for the lockers, which were non refundable. When I got bored and decided to leave, another thought crossed my mind. Why didn’t they have a glacial plunge pool, to help you cool down?

So that is why I decided hostels don’t have baths, so places like this can charge a fortune so you can come and sit in theirs.

Mini Count:-16, non on the west coast though, spotted this one in Wanaka.

Follow Me! Google Earth co-ordinates:- 43 26’25.65″S 170 10’20.94″E Franz Joseph Glacier.

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About Steven R Harrison

Greetings! Thank you for having a look at my blog. On here you will find my epic adventure around New Zealand that I undertook in 2011-12, now available to buy with more pictures and in hard back entitled 'Blogs, Bikes & Jelly Beans' from Lulu.com and Amazon. Since returning to Blighty I have been writing my next novel, Attack of the Atomic Airships, which will soon be available to buy from all the usual channels. For now though, since my travelling days are 'on hold' for the time being, I hope you will enjoy some 'Flash Fiction,' that is, fiction of around 1000 words or less. The subjects are varied, but usually gravitate toward SF. The first one is called Continue? Yes / No. I hope you enjoy it!
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