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Published: December 25th 2006
Franz Josef in cloud
from our motel balcony
Thursday - woke up to find the clouds gone and a beautiful snow-capped mountain outside our door. So we went for a walk to see the Franz Josef glacier - we got pretty close to it, but didn't actually walk on it. Close up, glaciers are not pristine and white, but dirty, covered with soil and rocks, and the meltwater that flows out of them is milky grey with silt. Access to the area immediately in front of the glacier is by ladder and appears to be controlled by the companies running the tours. However we ignored the various warnings and during a break in the procession of guided tours ascended the latter and made our way to within 20 yds or so of the glacier itself. Close up it is indeed massive, row upon row of huge lumps of snow stacked behind each other reaching back hundreds of feet up the valley. The earlier guided tours visible as ant like creatures climbing the steep slopes above us. We were accompanied on our illicit adventure by a couple of english lads and as one of them posed in front of the ice tunnel through which the melt water escapes a huge
block of ice dropped into the cavern some 20 metres behind him.
We returned down the valley stopping off to climb a small hill to look backat the glacier in its entirety. We then climbed a small side valley track to Wombat Lake a pleasant walk through the usual bush/forest to a beautifully picuresque little lake. Unfortunately the trail stopped at the end of the lake and as with most of the bush further progress was impossible without a couple of machetes.
After tea we drove a couple of miles down the road to climb a small hill called Canavan's Knob which would give us views both back up the valley to the glacier and also down the river to the coast. The hill was an easy climb of a few hundred feet through temperate rain forest typical of this area - rata, rimu, lots of southern beech (all up to 50m plus in height), with younger moss draped trees mixed in with tree fern and the banks covered in various mosses and ferns. The river at this point has curt a 50yd wide by 10 ft deep swathe through the countryside but at this time of
year is restricted to a channel no more than 10 yds across.
After a nice dinner including a bottle of cheeky NZ wine and another delightful bath (one of the main reasons for booking into our motel) it was bed ready for an early start in the morning.
Friday another gorgeous morning so after a quick breakfast toast and Manuka honey and coffee we set off up to Fox Glacier. An easy walk of a mile or so from the car park takes you to within 50 metres of the glacier's edge with signs warning that to go "beyond this point is dangerous. However as the ground was obviouisly stable and the glacier incapable of leaping towards us we proceeded to within 20 yds or so of the glacier face, all in search of the perfect angle for the perfect photograph. The mass of ice contained in these beast is truly awesome as is the impact they have on the terrain - in some places it looked as is someone had simply taken a huge spade and sliced through the side of the valley to a depth of several hundred feet!
We then headed south to the
nearby Lake Mathieson. The lake is situated between Fost and the sea and provides superb views of Mount Tasman and Mt Cook (I think its Aoroki in Maori). Unfortunately some cloud came in shrouding the tops of both. The lake is surrounded by more temperate rain forest with an incredible selection of mosses and ferns on the forest floor.
We then continued south stopping beside a nice lake for lunch coffee. brewed on our faithful Tranga camping stove, bread, cheese and fresh fruit. A mile or so further on we saw a sign indicating another track/trail to a beach so of we set through more rain forest down yet another well maintained track (hats of to the NZ Dept of Conservation (DoC)) to a pretty beach with the promise of possibly seeing our first penguins. Alas no penguins but yes another pretty pebbly beach hammered by impressive waves. However the main wildlife appeared to be sandflies so after a short search for precious stones we continued our journey south. Eventually booked into motel and stayed in Haast, the sandflies had won this round. Haast is and felt like the endof the world it was only connected to the rest of
Franz Josef - we climbed this wall
We had to get up this to get to the glacier
NZ by road in the 60s and appears to be inhabited by a bunch of neanderathals. Tthe local bar was a huge barn of a place which could easily accomodate 2 or 300 people but had only a dozen or so locals when we called in for a beer and something to eat. Haast itself has a wild beach with more driftwood than I've seen anywhere in a place without any trees of its own - it has some fantastic pieces of driftwood that could have been sold for a fortune - and probably would be back home.
Saturday - farewell West coast - through Haast Pass, which had some very impressive views. Once over the pass we stopped for breakfast having discounted Haast's only cafe maybe we should have eaten in Haast - food pretty dreadful and even the coffee wasn't up to usual standard. We were now on the north shore of Lake Wanaka - one of the largest lakes in NZ but soon cut through to the east onto Lake Hawea we took a short 6km detour up another unsealed road to a car park beside the lake and followed yet another DoC track. This led
us though another impressive forest of southern beech climbing steeply till we came out of the forest some 2000ft above Lake Hawea. Back to the car and on to Wanaka - where we booked in for three nights at the town centre camp site ( to make sure we don't have to sleep in a stable, cos there's no room anywhere at Christmas).
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