January 27 and 28, 2014
Wanaka was absolutely gorgeous the morning I left. Just my luck. I arrived when it was drizzly and cloudy and leave when the weather is beckoning for me to stay. Next time I will book several days in Wanaka. Just the little bit that a saw really made me want to stay and see more, and experience some of the stuff just outside of Wanaka.
So after taking a little bit of time to shoot some pictures of Lake Wanaka, which was just in front of the hostel that I was staying at, I headed off to Haast. The ultimate destination was Franz Josef. Just over a week ago, Ben and Sue had been telling me what I should see and do along the highway to Haast. Blue Pools and the the Fantail waterfall.
These were quite impressive to see and nice little stops along the way to Glacier Country. The views were stunning along the highway as well. I had to stop to see Lake Hawea and then I had to stop to see Lake Wanaka as well.Then there was a stop at Knights Point just passed Haast Village and another stop around Bruce Bay where there were a lot of white stones that other travellers had written messages and piled them up along the rest area.
There was so much to see along this drive that you have to careful you’re not on a time crunch for your ultimate destination. I was not. As I got closer to Fox Glacier, I turned off the main highway to get my first glimpse of the Fox Glacier. Grrrr. More unsealed roads. And for a far off glimpse but you get to see the upper part of the glacier. Then further along the road, there is another little walking track that takes you through the forest to get a different view of the glacier. It was about a 30 minute walk and then back onto the unsealed road to continue onto my ultimate destination.
But hold on, here’s another turn off for Fox Glacier. Since I had time, Franz Josef is only 25 minutes from Fox, I decided to take another detour to see Fox Glacier. I am so glad it did. Yes, there was more unsealed roads, but once you start approaching the car park, you see the scope of how large the glacier used to be because you see the typical “V” shape of the valley as you drive closer and closer to the glacier. From the car park you can’t actually see the glacier. You still have to walk to the glacier. With all the stops I made to take photos, it probably took me about 1.5 hours. And according to the information sign, we were within 200 metres of the glaciers. How cool is that? Speaking of cool, it was cold. Make sure you’re dressed properly. It was windy and the fact that there was very little blue sky and also the fact that it was getting on in the afternoon, kind of all added up to…make sure you have layers on and make sure you have proper shoes. As I was walking the path, I could see people in sandals. Really? The last 10 to 15 minutes of the trek is a fairly steep climb. Not good for people wearing sandals. And its not like a soft dirt path. You’re walking over loose rocks and gravel type paths. Stuff that was left behind by the glacier as it retreated. Anyway after making it to the top, I was kind of disappointed to see how dirty the glacier was. Maybe I’m comparing it to the glaciers in Jasper, that I saw a few years ago. Or maybe I’m comparing them to glaciers that I saw on tv. But I always thought it would be whiter, cleaner looking. I did see some parts that were blue and I knew to expect that. But I was surprised to see all the brown stuff. And I was also surprised to see how tiny the people were, the ones that actually walked on the glacier.
Take note, try to time your return so that you are in front of the groups that are returning from their walk on the glacier. The path that everyone walks on is for the most part roomy enough for 2, maybe three people. If you are on a time crunch, you don’t want to be stuck behind them. Even if you aren’t on a time crunch, you don’t want to be stuck behind them. After finally getting unstuck from behind one of these groups, I made my way back to my car and headed for Franz Josef.
Now my GPS said it would take 25 minutes to get to my destination. And it probably would’ve taken me 25 minutes, if I had followed the speed limit of 100 km per hour on a highway. But this little section of highway was like driving the old Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler, except it was windier and twisty-er and it was only a two lane highway. And there was even a one lane bridge, at least one that I can remember. I do remember that there were lots of curvy sections where the speed limit drops to 35 then 25 and there was even one for 15 km/hr. This was the freakiest drive ever so far. Well, after surviving the drive, I arrived at the hostel. Franz Josef is a village. You can’t possibly call it a town. But if you want to call it a town go ahead, but really there is one street with lots of options for you helicopter tours, one grocery store, two, maybe three restaurants/cafes and one gas station. But even though it was small, it is a good base if you want to see things in that area.
My second day in Glacier Country, I returned to Fox Glacier, only because the Roberts Point Track was closed. So I could not hike that track. But I did get to see Lake Matheson. According to the guide books you can get some great mirror reflections of Mt. Cook in the lake. But it’s all about timing. I did get some good reflections but the wind picked up and as soon as the camera was pulled out and set, there were ripples in the lake. So you move on to the next vantage point only to see crowds of people in the way. Good grief. Well, one good thing about being on your own and not with a tour group – I am not on a time crunch. I can wait, whereas the tour must move one. So I waited. And I got a few good shots, but once the crowds were gone, the weather was not cooperating. The wind picked up and the ripples returned. By the time I was ready to go, it was time for lunch. The cafe at Lake Matheson is very good, as is the shop next door. Again, try to time it so you don’t encounter the tour groups that also stop here for lunch. Go to the shop while they are eating or vice versa.
After Lake Matheson, I headed over to the Peak Viewpoint which is about a 5 to 10 minute drive from Lake Matheson. Most groups head back to Fox Glacier after visiting Lake Matheson, but next time you’re there, head away from Fox Glacier, as if you were headed to Gillespie Beach. You’ll get a nice surprise. I don’t think a lot of people know about this view point. It was pretty cool because from here you can see Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman and the Fox Glacier. Again that’s if the weather is cooperating. There were some clouds blocking out Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. The clouds drifted a bit, but really the only good view that I was getting was of the Fox Glacier. But that’s alright. I saw it as I was driving along the unsealed road and even though I didn’t get the perfect photo, I still saw it. And that’s really what is important.
So after Lake Matheson, it was time for me to drive this curvy, twisty, windy road one final time back to Franz Josef. It was now time for me to see the Franz Josef Glacier. Again an unsealed road. There really are a lot of unsealed roads in New Zealand. Anyway, driving the unsealed road to Franz Josef. It was a different kind of approach to the glaciers, quite different from the approach to Fox Glacier. With Fox, like I said you know that you are driving through the valley where the glacier used to be. But with Franz Josef, it’s like you are driving along the side through forest. Once you get to the car park, read the signs and then head off through the forested path. With this glacier, we would get as close as 500 metres. Well, once you’ve walked the forested path, you turn the corner and you are in the valley and it is massive and so much more impressive. And you feel so small, so tiny in this place. Yes there were lots of people also walking to see this glacier but even with them on the same path, you feel small. The other difference between the two glaciers is the path. Fox was a tiny path not very wide. And with Franz Josef, most people followed the same path, but there was so much room to spread out. The only reason you wouldn’t spread out is there are actually marked poles for you to follow, but really other than the fact that people were wearing inappropriate footwear, sandals, we could’ve walked and made our own path as along as we were all headed in the same direction. There were several impressive waterfalls along the way and you could hear the river next to you but you wouldn’t want to get too close, just in case the side gives way and you fall in. The other thing that I noticed with the Franz Josef was the sound of the helicopters. It was non stop in and out for these helicopter tours. Now, I didn’t pay too much attention with the Fox Glacier, but at the Franz Josef, there actually was a sign saying that if you wanted to go see the Franz Josef Glacier when it was quiet, they gave times, when the helicopters weren’t flying. Well, after reaching the Franz Josef and taking my photos, I pulled out the iPod and sauntered back to the car park admiring the view and listening to Coldplay’s Paradise and other appropriate tunes. What a nice way to end my day. Next destination, Arthur’s Pass.
Wish you were all here! Luv, Aunty!