This weekend marked a tumultuous turning point in the Dunedin environ: spring is here! It's actually warm out, things are blooming, and warm breezes work their way inland from the bay at regular intervals. Heedless of the preferential treatment our ludicrous universe suddenly seemed to be granting me, I promptly packed myself into a small rental car with three friends and headed west (which, as you avid New Zealand geography buffs already know, is the terminally cold portion of the island) to Fox Glacier. The 8-hour drive marked my first time BEHIND the wheel of a vehicle that purposely dominates the left-hand side of the street, and I got used to it remarkably quickly. What's not so easy is distinguishing the windshield wipers from the turn signal, which are also reversed: every time we navigated an intersection or pulled in for gas, the back seat would burst out laughing. After dark, possums become something of an obstacle, but seeing as they're a pest in NZ the act of dodging them is condemned, so we hit two. One was so large the front left tire made funny sounds until I readjusted the molding around it.
The Fox Glacier Township has a population of 250 people, and we were the only inhabitants of our hostel that we saw for the entire two-day stay. FGT is tucked into a misty rainforest setting, with intimidatingly dense jungle snaking up the sides of sheer cliff-faces that make up the base of the West Coast's mountains. A massive rock slide had halted all glacier expeditions for the past week (something we had no idea about until we arrived) and our group of 8 was the first to tackle a makeshift trail up the cliffside next to the glacier (which, in turn, accesses the safe portion of the 13-kilometer long hunk of ice). After overcoming my fear of heights during a 270-feet stretch of path that required hugging a sheer rock face AND holding onto a thick metal chain to avoid falling down a 333-foot cliff, I donned crampons and a spikey walking stick to tackle the glacier's surface. What I wasn't expecting was a gloriously terrifying hike through several deep crevasses (so narrow I had to take my backpack off and scoot sideways, and with walls so icy blue and tall I felt underwater) as falling ice emitted whip-like cracks every few seconds. The adventure lasted roughly 5 hours, and we returned exhausted.
Not exhausted enough, though, to keep from heading to FGT's sole bar at 9:00 to watch the All Blacks play Australia in rugby. Nearly the entire population of the township showed up as well, and a rowdy time was had with a crowd mostly aged 40+. They were crazier than us, though, and when we headed out of town at 10 am the next morning a couple dozen still sat perched on the bar's front deck. yesterday entailed lots of driving and a nearly obscene amount of stops to document the west coast's various beauties (coastlines, jagged peaks, waterfalls, crystal clear rivers, etc.). We managed to reach Wanaka by 4, which made possible a trip to Puzzling World. It's a crazy tourist attraction that's filled with illusion rooms and an enormous, two-story maze. You all know how I love mazes, so let me tell you that this thing was more fun than any other I've tackled (on paper or in real life, for that matter). Some genius arranged it in such a way so that my logic always failed, and I knowingly walked in countless circles because my brain simply refused to accept the proper path, which was always the last place I expected. Regardless, I eventually found my way up the labyrinth's four towers AND made it through the exit in like an hour and a half.
Then there was more driving. I met a lot of colorful characters, and I could spend a lot of time regaling you all with their endearing antics, but my finers are a-hurtin' (more from the scalding hot dishes I just washed than from typing) and I need to read 300 pages of Humphry Clinker (the official worst book of 1771). Take it easy.