Fox Glacier - OutFoxed

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January 28th 2016
Published: March 16th 2016
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It was a damp, drizzly start to the next day but the downpour had stopped during the night and I was able to explore the Aspiring Motel grounds a little bit. They were surprisingly pretty; green and lush with a stream running through them. Our neighbours left about 9 am and we were on the road an hour behind them. We called in at the Haast Visitor Centre, given that we were passing anyway, and it was packed. Who would have thought so many people would be staying in the area - not me for sure as it had seemed that we were almost on our own in the middle of the rainforest! There was a veeerrryyy looonnnggg bridge at Jackson's Landing - I couldn't see the other end of it but I was very aware of the noisy, roiling river below it. Me and water don't mix. We took the Glacier Highway and soon encountered a couple of landslides of rocks and mud partially blocking our route but the New Zealand version of the Highways Agency were quickly on to it, clearing what they could to ensure the road stayed open and putting up diversion signs (some as short as ten yards or so around boulders that couldn't easily be moved but as there was only one possible road through, needs must). They seemed very efficient - I'm sure they are used to it. We passed several signs advising us not to stop due to the danger of being flattened by falling rocks so we didn't hang around too much. We stopped at Lake Paringa where the signs warned us of high 'tides' during severe wet weather and, indeed, we could not follow the track round the turning circle in the viewing area due to the high water level and had to manoeuvre round the lake waters to get back out!

The classic cars must have made it to their convention location because we saw no more signs of them. They seemed to have been replaced by literally hundreds of pedal cyclists. It looked no fun at all to me in the damp weather, plus it was VERY hilly; not an easy ride by any means. We saw so many rivers and bridges that it would have been impossible for the NZ-ers to give them all a name. Instead, they gave all the bridges a number - the highest numbered bridge we saw up to this point was 7273 - but when things did have a name they were all the more memorable, particularly The Windbag river/stream/culvert.

We arrived in Fox Glacier too early to check in to our motel. I was befuddled by the name of the town, thinking that the glacier was called Fox and therefore Fox Glacier was the name of the frozen ice water we were going to see. Well, it is and it isn't; both the glacier and the town are called Fox Glacier so we were going to see and stay in the same thing. Confusing or what, and unusual for NZ not to be more creative when it comes to giving things a name. Fox Glacier has a sister town not too far away called Franz Joseph Glacier and the same principle applies. I think the initial capitals are critical clue in this instance! The reason we were too early was that Steve thought we were staying in Franz Joseph! It wasn't until we drove past our motel in Fox Glacier (we'd gone to the town on purpose, planning to have a look around) that Steve recognised it from the website but it was all the more complicated because both towns, it turned out, had a motel called the Bella Vista. After a quick ride down to Lake Mathieson to decide on a plan of action (ie which one of us was going to play the idiot) we plucked up enough courage to approach the lady at the Bella Vista Motel in Fox Glacier, saying something like 'Er, we THINK we have a reservation, could you check please?' Dumb, or what?! Still, we were soon ensconced in Room 2 of the Bella Vista in Fox Glacier, with British neighbours on one side and Canadians on the other. Steve was disappointed to be on the ground floor but we were in civilised company as it turned out because the Brits told us the next morning that the Eastern Europeans on the first floor had had an almighty row during the night, loud enough to wake the dead. We, being righteous, slept through it all!

We were just setting out to start our day as the Brits were coming back from theirs, but we were doing the leisurely version, remember? The track to the Fox Glacier glacier had been closed the day before due to flooding as a result of the wet weather, but was open today. Mr Brit said we were guaranteed to get wet feet as the water was still higher than the stepping stones across the streams and had gone over the top of his walking boots. Indeed, he suggested flip-flops, on the basis that your feet would dry quicker! We laughed at the time but when we finally made it up to the glacier a number of people were making the trek in flip-flops and they probably had the right idea! As it happened, I got only one slightly damp foot.

The drive up to the glacier was only five minutes from our lodgings. The road narrowed to a thin dirt strip covered with chippings (of course) with a river of freezing glacier water on one side and a lake of mountain run-off on the other. There was a car park from where a trek across streams of icy cold water and up hills of loose shale (slippery when wet, imagine doing it in flip-flops!) took you as close as it was safe to get to the glacier face. It was quite a hike but people of all ages and abilities were giving it a go including one elderly woman who was so scared of using the stepping stones to cross the streams she just splashed through instead, though I think she did that unintentionally. It was probably a wise move on her part; better to have wet feet than fall in and get soaked through altogether.

I was quite impressed with the glacier itself, having never seen one before. Global warming is causing it to shrink of course, which is sad. We spent some time at the viewing point but began the return trek when it started to rain. Steve had finally given in to the Weather Gods and had bought himself a waterproof so it got its first outing here. Once unwrapped it turned out it was virtually a bin bag with a hood and holes for his arms to go through but at least it kept him dry and was a bit of a bargain at $3.50! Back at the bottom, huge chunks of ice floated down the ensuing river and I probably broke tons of rules walking out to the edge of the riverbed to pick one up, just to hold a piece of glacial frozen water. I only held it long enough for Steve to take a photo - man, it was cold! The river water was a grey colour, but clean, so I think it was the frozen water in it that turned it that colour. We left the glacier, stopping at a historic but very shaky bridge that I only got about ten foot across before running scared (there was a torrent rolling beneath it and it was VERY ramshackle!) and drove up to an additional glacier viewing point our neighbours had told us about. I think if you wanted just to have a look-see, without running the risk of soggy feet, this actually provided a better view and I wished I had been able to tell the old lady who splashed through the streams about it and maybe save her getting frostbite!

We returned to Lake Mathieson as we had only paid a brief visit the day before. It is renowned for being another one of those 'mirror' lakes and is supposed to reflect Mount Cook, on a good day. We still hadn't seen Mount Cook but this day was not a good day! We passed a couple of walkers returning from their trip and they advised us to stop right now and just take a photo of the sign at the entrance showing a wonderful reflection because today's view was smothered in low lying cloud. We carried on regardless - we were there, weren't we? - and hoped the sun would appear at just the right time. We walked a couple of miles there and a couple of miles back but no sunshine at all. The lake did have lots and lots of ducks, though, so at least there was something to see.

I bought a postcard in the souvenir shop of what might have been. I chatted later with other travellers and residents of Fox Glacier. Everyone reckoned that whoever took that postcard view must have been trying for the shot for years and got lucky on the one clear day for eons because it seems to be the only one around and the same scene appears on postcards, calendars, mugs, keyrings - you get the drift. The locals kept reminding us that this was a rainforest area, after all was said and done. I bought a poem about the rain with a couple of Fox's Glacier Mints pinned to the bottom as a memento and that just about summed it up.

What else about Fox Glacier? Well, it had a lovely little church called 'Our Lady of the Snows' and a wonderful pub called 'The Cook and Saddle' where they did bangers and mash, with gravy!! OK, they were venison bangers but oooh, were they tasty. Even Steve had some, and he's not a big fan of sausages. We had to make a dash back to the motel as we had left there in fine, dry weather but left the pub to find it was raining again. We were no longer surprised.

We chatted with our neighbours one final time before retiring to bed after an active day. They were travelling NZ for six weeks in the opposite circle to us and said they had had super weather so far - harrumph. They were 'caravanners' normally at home and in Europe but the costs had been prohibitive in NZ for them though they were enjoying their car/motel version of a travelling holiday just as much. We retired to bed just in time to catch Dan the Weatherman who was reporting serious flooding in Australia, particularly affecting the lovely Hervey Bay area. We decided to count our blessings that at least the rain hadn't delayed our travels, stranded us in odd places or interfered with our schedule. It's only weather, after all .....

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