Going Up The Country

Going to some place that i've never been before...

Tag: Good Times

Franz Josef National Park – Glaciers, Cider and Good Times.

Ever laughed so hard that cider came out of your nose? No? Me neither, until a few days ago.

They say that travelling is all about the people you meet, and they’d be right. A couple of nights ago we had the good fortune to stay at the same campsite as a whole bunch of interesting and brilliant individuals from all over the world. One of those fortuitous, lovely coincidences that seem to usually only happen to other people.

What ensued was a hilarious night sat round a campfire discussing life, travelling, adventures, music, politics and just about everything in between. There was a German lady on a motorbike tour of NZ, a group of four young American guys, one of whom was a really good guitarist, A Spanish guy mid-way through riding a mountain bike all around the south island (the best samba drummer I’ve ever seen), who was playing entire songs on pans, pots and empty boxes! There was also a French brother and sister, as well as a few other people, all sat around one campfire, sharing stories. Sadly there are no photos of this wondrous evening, as everyone was too preoccupied with cider and laughter to consider fetching a camera, but to be honest, any photographs couldn’t have truly captured the amazing vibe, and so in a way I’m quite glad that none exist. It is another one of those fondly remembered events that now exists purely and solely in the memories of those lucky enough to be involved.

Franz Josef Glacier or Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere ito give it its Maori name, is a 12 km glacier on the west coast of the south island of New Zealand, and one of the only glaciers to be in an area of temperate rainforest anywhere in the world. Together with the nearby Fox Glacier, it is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in this gorgeous country, and in an entire land of wilderness and rugged scenery, it still manages to impress. The glacier itself is huge, carving a gouge out of the bedrock of the mountain as it retreats, and leaving behind an almost alien landscape, more akin to the surface of a strange planet from a sci-fi movie than anything we are used to seeing her on earth. The vast scale of the landscapes here have a way of making you seem incredibly insignificant, and none more so than here.

Tours to the glacier face itself have long been stopped after numerous deaths due to sudden and unpredictable shifts and falls in the ice itself, so the only way to get up close and personal with the glacier is by helicopter, an expensive and unsustainable activity that goes against the very nature of glacier conservation. We opted instead for a formidable 6 hour hike up to the top of the neighbouring summit, from where there are panoramic views of the entire national park, including the glacier itself. The colours, and deep wrinkles and undulating folds of the glacier looked like something out of a painting, and from a distance, with little handle on scale, it was hard to believe that the view in front of you was real.

That Mexican Metal Mariachi Band

I like to think I’m pretty clued up when it comes to genres of music. Turns out I’d missed one.

When several very cool people recommend a place to you completely independently and unbeknownst to each other, that’s a sign that you really should go check that place out. That place was The Mussel Inn, just outside a town called Tekaka, and it’s a little bit special.

Tekaka itself is worth a mention, a sweet little town with lots of art galleries, organic food shops, quirky café’s and crafts places that feels a little bit like a wandering group of artists and hippies have somehow taken over a turn-of-the century mid-west frontier town – ‘The Good Life’ meets ‘Little House on The Prairie.’

Head north out of Tekaka for about ten minutes and you’ll find the turn off for The Mussel Inn. The bar itself is an old, well settled wooden shack, big enough for people to have a good time, but small enough to feel intimate and busy without too much hard work. We turned up intending to just have one drink (from a selection of their own home-made ales, lagers and ciders), but as is the way with places that are this good, we didn’t make it out of there until well into the following day.

It seems that the ingredients for a really good night are pretty much the same the world over, regardless of town, country or even hemisphere. If you find a place with a great outdoor space, preferably with a fire pit, live music, home-brewed drinks and a couple of really good food options, then you’re more likely than not in for a good time. The place itself is only half the battle though, even a great venue will fall down if it is full of arseholes. Luckily, good places and great people seem to attract each other, and this place was no exception. The crowd was a ramshackle group of various ages and nationalities, but all with a taste for good ales, a chilled atmosphere and all with an almost palpable sense of anticipation with regards to the live treat for the evening, a Mexican Metal Mariachi band. It helped that the band had obviously bought a few supporters along, some of which were busy painting the faces of anyone willing, including Pauline:

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The band did not disappoint, from their kiss-esque black and white face paint, to their black leather trousers and frilly black shirts, they well and truly looked the part, and musically, they were well rehearsed and tight, which is lucky, because with classical style fingerpicking that fast, there is little room for error! They played a long set, with a gap in the middle, and by the end of the night the whole place was jumping. A bouncing, writhing mass of people with huge grins plastered across their black and white painted faces. The echo of bare feet stomping in unison upon the well-worn wide wooden planks of the bar floor is still ringing in my ears now.

What a night.