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Published: December 16th 2015
It rains in New Zealand. It rains a lot. It rains in such quantities at times that it feels like the entire Tasman Sea is being poured out on your head. This was our experience as we left Abel Tasman and it would continue to be our experience over the next few days as we drove down the West Coast... or "Wet Coast" as it is sometimes known.
Leaving our hot shower, we drove from Moteuka to Hokitika. After overnighting in the cheapest motel we could find we went into the town. It had the small town feel common to many of New Zealand's settlements but it also had an artsy nature which was quite appealing. The first shop we went in was a glass blowing studio which had the most exquisite coloured glassware. The highlight for me was a chess set of sheep against penguins. We also visited some galleries with beautiful photographs. There wasn't a huge amount to do in Hokitika though so we left after a cup of coffee.
From Hokitika we carried on to Franz Josef. The town of Franz Josef exists for only one reason... To facilitate tourism on the Franz Josef glacier. We
drove down the forested Highway 6 and couldn't even tell that there were mountains in the area because the cloud was so dense. We got a good deal for the local thermal pools, which were amazingly rejuvenating, so this brightened our spirits on our first afternoon. We hadn't planned to spend long in the town but ended up staying for a few days to wait for a clear spell to see the glacier. This gave us the opportunity to take a much needed rest day.
On the Wednesday and Thursday nights we stayed at the Top 10 Holiday Park which was pretty lousy. On Thursday evening we got fed up waiting for the rain to stop so drove over the mountains towards Fox Glacier to see if that side was any brighter. The cloud there was a bit higher and we got a lovely walk around Lake Matheson. This lake is famous for beautiful perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains. Sadly there was too much wind for reflections and too much cloud to see much of the mountains. The wooded circuit around the lake was a good walk though and we were glad to get out in the fresh
air. It was depressing driving back through the clouds into Franz Josef.
Friday morning dawned fairly clear and we seized the opportunity. We quickly drove out of town, and parked at the glacier. Here we joined throngs of other people on their quest for a view of the glacier. We took a twenty minute walk and found a crowded viewing platform with wide views of the majestic Franz Josef Glacier. We then continued on to get as close as possible to the ice face. The fabulous people at the Department for Conservation go out each day to set a safe viewing distance. Following the rains this was sadly a rather far off 1.2km. We took the walk anyway and got some great views of the blue-tinged ice cascade on the saddle between two dark looming mountains.
Exhilarated by our sights of this glacier, which were well worth waiting for, we took the half hour drive to Fox Glacier. I assumed that Fox couldn't be more spectacular than Franz Josef but I was completely wrong. The walk was an altogether different experience. Franz Josef has a sanitised feel - the path is good, the view is postcard perfect and
the experience is over in half an hour. Fox on the other hand has a two kilometre walk over "rugged terrain": the rough rocky glacial river bed; crossings of fast flowing streams; and a steep scramble through an avalanche zone. Also, the scenery at Fox is much more impressive, especially as it doesn't have Franz Josef's tree cover. As for the glacier itself... possibly by virtue of being so much closer, the experience at Fox was much more awe-inspiring. You are rewarded for your efforts by a magnificent sheer icy cliff face which gleams a subtle shade of blue. At the bottom of the ice sheet there is a large cave with a strong-flowing torrent of glacial melt-water emanating from it. The whole scene was breathtaking. Sadly by the time we reached the end of our track the rain was coming down again and we had to hurry away.
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