Jungfraujoch is a vantage point 11,782 feet (3,571 metres) up in the Swiss Alps & is about a 2 hour drive South West of Zurich.
Sign at the Sphinx Vantage Terrace at Jungfraujoch
Jungfraujoch was always going to be a highlight of my few days visiting Zurich and I had been monitoring the weather forecast for the previous week trying to identify the best day to go. It is marketed as the "Top of Europe" and on the way up we were warned to be wary of altitude sickness by taking it slowly and keeping ourselves well hydrated & fed.
First stop was Interlaken where we were dropped for a 40 minute comfort break by some high value tourist shops (Swiss watches, designer handbags, etc); I was expecting blatant selling like that later in Thailand but not on the Swiss leg of my trip! Interlaken has some lovely Victorian hotels but is very touristy if thankfully quiet (like most of Switzerland) on a Sunday. The best bit of Interlaken was watching the paragliding down onto the Hohe-Matte Park in the centre of town from a ridge high above.
Paraglider about to land in the centre of Interlaken
We then began our epic trip up the mountain on the historic cog railway (100 years old in 2012) to the highest railway station in Europe.
View from the train back towards Lauterbrunnen
Trackside house on the way up from Lauterbrunnen
Sun on the High Alps
We had to change trains at Kleine Scheidegg which was a hive of activity with skiers scurrying everywhere carrying their skis and trying to get to the slopes. As our train continued up the Mountain the already spectacular views seemed to get better around every bend in the track.
Skiers de-train at Kleine Scheidegg Station
Cable Cars and Skiers near Kleine Scheidegg
Classic view from Kleine Scheidegg
Once we reached the top the views were awesome! Apparently on a clear day such as the one we were there you can see as far as Italy, France and Germany.
Me at the Sphinx Vantage Point at Jungfraujoch
The Sphinx Vantage Point at Jungfraujoch
The view from the Sphinx Vantage Point
From the vantage point it was backdown into the mountain to make our way to the Glacier Plateau passing through ice tunnels and carvings of ice.
Me inside an Ice Tunnel
Yvonne and Mary, a couple of new friends I met on my trip to Jungfraujoch
Ice Carvings in the Ice Palace
Venturing out onto the Glacier Ice Plateau it was bitterly cold, the gauge read minus 22 degrees Centigrade but the views of the mountains (Eiger - 13,026ft, Monch - 13,475ft and Jungfrau - 13,642ft) and the Glacier can only be described as awesome. The Aletsch Glacier that flows from Jungfraujoch is 14 miles (23 kilometres) long making it the longest glacier in Europe.
The Glacier Ice Plateau
Me out on the Plateau - minus 23 degrees Centigrade!
View of the Aletsch Glacier from Jungfraujoch
Having survived going out on the glacier ice plateau all that remained to do was to return to the train and make our way back down; 45 minutes mainly underground to Kleine Scheidegg and then to change trains to get down to Grund where our coach back to Zurich was waiting for us.
Getting back on the train at the highest railway station in Europe
Travelling alone with everything on my back and a lot of distance to cover, joining a backpacking tour felt the best way to get the essential NZ South Island experience. Having settled into my hostel in Greymouth I wandered down for a tour of the local Monteith's Brewery whose Amber Ale I had developed a taste for. The tour itself made me sad with the brewing now done in a large plant elsewhere with the micro brewery that remained only used for researching new beers. However at the beer tasting afterwards I met and joined for dinner 4 lovely ladies already on the Magic Bus I was joining who gave me the lowdown on what life on the bus with our driver "Soap" was like; the next 9 days were going to be fun!
YHA Queenstown Lakefront - typical of the hostels I stayed in
Example of a small hostel dormitory (from YHA Taronga on North Island)
Inside Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth
Our Magic Bus and crew outside the Haast Visitor Centre (I am kneeling at the front, 3rd from the left)
After a boisterous welcome aboard the bus the following morning we stopped at the Bushman Centre at Pukekara. Not a lot to see per se in the small museum but they did screen a humourous macho 20 minute video about deer hunting - NZ South Island West Coast style! Basically deer are an introduced species and with no predators bred like rabbits destroying everything. At first they were ruthlessly hunted but then it was realised profit could be made by capturing and farming them. Then the video gets fun because ultimately the way they are caught is by flying low in a helicopter and leaping on them with a net - maniacs!
The Bushman Centre at Pukekura
Deer in the paddock by the Bushman's Centre
The highlight of the day though was the afternoon heli-hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, we were given coats, boots & crampons and flown on a short but spectacular helicopter flight to the start of the glacier. We were then taken on 2 hour hike across the ice, crossing & climbing crevasses and descending through ice tunnels. It was brilliant and very different from my previous glacial experience during my trip at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.
The view from the helicopter flying on to the Franz Josef Glacier
Hikers disembarking onto the ice from the helicopter
We wait while our guide makes sure the ice screws holding the safety line are still secure
We make our down a crevasse on the Franz Josef Glacier
Me emerging from an ice tunnel on the Franz Josef Glacier
A helicopter taking off from the glacier returning hikers back to the village
Early the next morning we reached Lake Matheson and after a short walk across a deliberately wobbly bridge reached the viewpoint where Mount Cook, Mount Tasman (the 2 highest mountains in NZ) and the Fox Glacier are famously reflected in the lake like a mirror. It turns out the connection between the glacier and the top UK selling Fox's Glacier Mints is a myth - one is named after an 1870s NZ prime minister while other is named after their Leicester based inventor in 1918!
I didn't know it at the time but the new data card I inserted into my camera after Franz Josef turned out to be a dud and I lost all the photos I took for the next couple of days. Fortunately I was with friends trying to take very similar photos to myself and they have helped out so these are "borrowed" photos until Milford Sound. Thanks again guys for helping out - you know who you are!
The wobbly bridge on the track down to Lake Matheson, every step and the whole bridge seems to move to the left or right!
The famous mirror reflection of the mountains on Lake Matheson; unfortunately it was not at its best while we there but still impressive none the less
We then had to cover a lot of miles from the relative flat of the West Coast snaking up through the mountains and dense forest of the Haast Pass to our next overnight stop at Wanaka. On the way up we stopped at the Thunder Creek Falls which Soap our driver said were "magic" and that if we stared at them for 30 seconds and then looked slightly away we'd know why. I'm not entirely sure I saw what was intended but as I stared I did see what looked like a warp in my vision in the trees next to the top of the falls which was pretty eerie!
Thunder Creek Falls (aka the Magic Waterfall)
Once we reached the summit it was relatively flat driving alongside Lakes Wanaka (26 miles - 43 kilometres, 70 square miles in size & 4th largest in NZ) and Hawea (21 miles - 35 kilometres long, 54 square miles in size). Our final stop before overnighting in Wanaka was at Puzzling World, a tourist attraction built around optical illusions and puzzles. It had a maze but it's signature attraction was its leaning tower outside, the idea was you took a photograph from an angle such that it looked like you were holding it up!
The Leaning Tower at Puzzling World just outside Wanaka
Einstein is always watching you! Another optical illusion at Puzzling World
The next day began with "Soap" our driver playing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" full blast, we were approaching Queenstown, "the adrenalin capital of the world". First stop was at the historic AJ Hacket Bridge over the Kawarau River, the home of the original bungy jump and nearly a quarter of the bus had signed up to have a go! Needless for me to say but with my fear of heights I wasn't one of them... although there was something gnawing away inside of me saying if I could just get enough courage (or madness) to do it for the couple of minutes it takes I'd love to be able to say I'd done it!
The historic AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge over the Kawarau River
Bungy Jumper eye view of the river
We have take-off... only 142 feet (43 metres) to the river below!
Ignoring the bungy jumping for a minute, it is actually quite a pretty gorge!
All fired up we had a lunch stop in Arrowtown and went in search of the meat pies from the local bakery. Hand-sized meat pies baked fresh daily from the local bakery in every small town are considered the national dish in New Zealand and although similar, invariably taste a lot better than the steak pies back home in the UK. Arrowtown itself is a quaint small town which has managed to retain more than 60 of its original wooden and stone buildings from its gold rush days of the 1860s.
The Arrowtown Bakery
It was then onwards to Queenstown - where most towns have chemists and supermarkets, Queenstown instead has agents for bungy jumping, jetboating and skydiving and a host of bars and clubs! Our Bus was in a party mood having won the "Battle of the Buses" bar games tournament against the rival tour bus companies the night before in Wanaka and we now enjoyed a few nights in the pubs, clubs and restaurants of Queenstown (and off course the meat pies from the world famous Fergbakery in Shotover Street).
Party time in Queenstown with my Magic Bus crew (I'm first on the left)
All you can eat Pizza Night with my Magic Bus crew in Queenstown (I'm first on the left)