Ice, ice baby...
17.01.2014 - 19.01.2014 20 °C
St Arnaud - Franz Josef (394km/245m)
We knew we had one of our longest journeys ahead of us so it was another early start to the day getting on the road by 08:00. We had really enjoyed our time in the Nelson Lakes, hiking and relaxing by the lake, but it was time for some larger mountains!
The roads were long and winding having to do a lot of them in 2nd gear, getting stuck behind really terrible Kiwi drivers and camper vans as well as an encounter of some of the wildlife.
Our 4 hour journey (so said Google) was looking less and less likely so to take a break we stopped for a picnic lunch on the shores of Lake Mapourika. It was beautiful and although the sun was shining down on us the wind was quite strong making it a little chilly. Nick of course was back in his singlet determined not to miss out on any tanning opportunity!
Back on the road and another 2.5 hours later we had made it to Franz Josef Village. I say village but it is basically a strip of development on the highway totally geared for tourists with cafes, souvenir shops, 4 separate booking agents for helicopter flights and the most expensive petrol we have seen yet!! We checked into Chateau Franz Backpackers which was definitely a “grower”. Although the owner was lovely the place needed a really good refurb and our room was very tired and fusty smelling (thanks for the perfume Gemma - made great air freshener!). By day two however we were both more relaxed and could see past some of the issues.
It was still early in the afternoon, so we jumped back in the car to head straight for the Franz Josef Glacier on the outskirts of town. It, along with Fox Glacier (20km up the road), are the two lowest lying glaciers in the world at only 300m above sea-level. Sadly the weather was not brilliant with very grey and stormy looking clouds overhead and Nick was his usual glum self at the lack of blue skies.
We walked along the glacial track to the terminal face and we have to be honest we were both a little underwhelmed. The ice is slowly retreating thanks to global warming and the future of the glacier is uncertain. Sadly this means it is a shadow of it’s former self and nowhere near as impressive as it was as little as 3 years ago. Today the only way to see it up close is to take a helicopter and do a guided hike, paying a minimum of $299 (£150) each for the privilege! It also didn’t come close to our last glacier experience at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland.
Feeling a little disappointed we decided to cheer ourselves up back in town with a pint at Happy Hour, by which time the sun was starting to shine again and we got to enjoy some late afternoon warmth (Nick was back in the singlet!). Later that evening whilst making dinner (more yummy pasta!) the view out of the kitchen window started to clear giving us amazing views of the snowcapped mountains. Maybe we had been too quick to judge the cloud covered glacier?
Nick decided that we had to head back to the viewing platform to try and get some better photos so making me wolf down dinner we jumped back in the car. Once we got to the car park, Nick started to panic that the clouds were coming back and the sun was getting too low to get a good photo so he practically ran up the hill (with me trying to keep up) to get his perfect shot.
The following morning and the sun was shining. There was not a cloud in the sky and the view from our hostel was quite incredible looking up towards the peaks. We had already decided that we would head to Lake Matheson, famed for having a near perfect reflective view of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in it’s waters on a clear day. Our luck was in!
The walk around the lake takes about 1.5 hours (add at least 30 minutes for photo stops) in total with a number of view points along the way. It is stunning, there are no other words for it! Mount Cook and Mount Tasman are the two largest peaks in New Zealand and we were so lucky to get such a good view of them, even though we did not quite get the perfect reflection in the water.
Our next stop was Fox Glacier where we were hoping to do a 1.5 hour hike to a viewpoint however annoyingly due to flooding the track was closed. We took one of the other shorter paths instead which also offered some great views across the valley towards the ice and ended at a historic suspension bridge which Nick had great fun jumping up and down on, while I worried it may break!
We then headed to the glacier terminal face which was about an hours walk from the car park. You trek along a gravel path up a very steep hill but are rewarded with the most wonderful views of the ice from only 200m away! Fox Glacier was far more impressive than it’s neighbour Franz Josef even though it is also in retreat and our faith had been restored. Again the best way to get up close is to take a helicopter flight or a guided walk on the ice, but again both were sadly way out of our price ranges, but we were seriously tempted!
Back down we decided to stop off in Fox Glacier Village, again a tourist trap on the main highway but much smaller in scale, where we ate our snap and had a drink at a cafe in the sunshine.
By now the skies had completely clouded over again and we had be so lucky we had gotten everything we wanted done while the sun was still shining. We headed back to Franz Josef Village for a mooch around the shops (the only 2 in town) before a lazy afternoon back at the hostel drinking tea and hot chocolate and sorting through the near 300 photos we had somehow managed to take in less than 48 hours!