Wanaka and France Joseph Glacier

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May 6th 2013
Published: May 8th 2013
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Wanaka and France Joseph Glacier.

As predicted Sunday was a white wash. All the plans made by Burto for kayaking, horse riding, sky jump etc all had to be cancelled. It rained almost non-stop all day. There was no point even driving up the hills to have a good view of Wanaka as the low clouds almost obliterated the view. He changed plans quickly and we went to see the "Puzzle World" an assortment of curious things starting with 3D images, faces of famous people with their eyes following you, a room which fools your sense of proportion another which mocks at your sense of balance and gravity etc. There was also a large maze where you have to negotiate your way to four coloured havens and finally find your way out of the maze. There were also numerous object puzzles for one to solve. If I had to choose I would not have chosen to go here but I did find the place fascinating and a fun way to spend a couple of hours. We had leave Wanaka before 1300hrs as it was a long drive, approximately 6 hours, to France Joseph Glacier our location for the next two days. We stopped in a quaint little village called Arrowtown. There was nothing much here except a main street which is well preserved. The Autumn colours I had seen was only mainly yellow but the surrounding hills of Arrowtown had the foliage in a splendor of colours ranging from dark brown to pale yellow.

On the way we had to cross two rows of mountains. These were fairly new geographic features (only about 85 million years old) the result of interaction between the Australian and the Pacific plates. The area is still prone to seismic activity with frequent earth quakes.

On our way we stopped in a few places to watch some beautiful waterfalls, geographic features, at a beach famous for surfing, a specialised fishing village where they catch a tiny fish known as "white bait" which is a delicacy (80NZD/kg) and also to have a good view of the Fox Glacier from a distance, which we did not plan to visit. We got to FJG by 1830hrs. The drive through the mountains were beautiful. Though the upper regions of the mountains are bare and covered with snow the lower regions are subtropical dense rain forests. Melting ice and continuous rain creates a lot of waterfalls many which can only seen from a distance either high up in the hills or too inaccessible by vehicles.

The day in FJG was to be a tame affair for me as I did not want to the helicopter ride and trek on the glacier (after Perito Moreno it was a "nothing compares to you"). There were two insignificant tremors, even though only a few people in the group felt it. It only go to show that the area is still active and explains the peculiar topography of the region. Most of the others had opted for a helicopter ride on to the glacier and a glacier walk. But the high winds prevented the helicopter landing and take-off impossible on the glacier and they were really disappointed. Only Tom who opted for sky diving got what he wanted. The rest just waited to see if the winds will subside, and then had to go for a walk in the rainforest.

I had already opted for a bus shuttle to the glacier, a 45 minute walk to near the glacier and an afternoon kayaking session. The walk to the glacier was tough with some 120km winds against, but I got to the lookout point, took some photos. People had to hold on to the ropes to prevent being blown over, but managed to get back to the pick-up station for the ride back to the hotel. This area is known as glacier country. There are more than 300 named glaciers around here and thousands unnamed. The high rainfall of around 5000mm/year nurtures the rainforests at the lower slopes. However on the hills it falls as snow, compacted by its own weight flow down-hill very slowly as glaciers. The glaciers and the rainforest in combination make sure that the moist warm south westerly winds are to made dump most of their water here.

Around 1430hrs we were kitted out for the kayaks. Things went smoothly at first and we were heading for the opposite bank when my kayak rolled over. Fortunately I could remember the instructions as to how to get out of the kayak. Looking around I knew I could not swim to the nearest shore which was more than one km away. So I had to hang on to overturned kayak. The life-west also give you a lot of confidence. It is me ganging on the tail while the leader is lifting and trying to get the water out of the Kayak. I still have my hat and sunglasses on. Help was on hand and I managed to get back into the kayak (at the second attempt) and resume our tour. My greatest fear was what was in the murky waters (the colour of water is brown due tanin from the wood) and fortunately the water was not cold enough to freeze me. Even though wet and cold I managed to hang on and finish with every body else at 1800 hours. Only later the leader told me that I got the fastest and lightest kayak but that also meant it was a bit unstable for a heavier person.

Fortunately I had not taken my passport with me. I had a purse but the credit cards and the NZ and AU money being plastic did not cause any problems. My watch was functioning OK only the camera I am not sure. I have to wait a couple of days till it dries out fully before I can assess the damage. All in all it turned out to be an eventful day including the free swim in the lake.

Four of the group including me were leaving the tour tomorrow, so we had a farewell party at the Blue Ice Inn. The party must have gone into late night, but the elders, myself, John and Vicki left a bit early giving the youngsters a bit of space.

Additional photos below
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8th May 2013

well done wilson. keep on going

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