The South Island tour continues…
Aside from driving south along the Westland coast, our goal for the day was to see some of the glaciers of the Southern Alps. Though much of the snow in the mountains melts in summer, don’t try to tell these bad boys to go away, because glaciers don’t melt. Except now they do, I guess. Slowly. Because of climate change. Actually not really that slowly. Ugh.
To really get up on the glaciers, you have to take a guided helicopter tour that deposits you up on the glacier. Since we’d had the chance to walk up on a glacier in the Canadian Rockies years back, we decided to pass on this and just take a hike up to the glaciers’ terminal faces.
After stopping in the town of Franz Josef, where (though some pretty ridiculous luck with the weather being windy in the morning and us getting to the visitor center at exactly the right time) we got to say a quick hello to my glacier guide friend Janet, we continued on to do the hike up to Franz Josef glacier, named in the 1800s for the Austrian emperor of the same name (obviously).
The glacier is retreating pretty quickly, as evidenced by markers and photos on the trail showing where it used to be. But you know, glaciers go in, glaciers go out…you can’t explain that.
Then it was on to Fox Glacier, where you can also walk up to the terminal face. Both walks were similar, less than an hour each way, fairly easy except for a few steeper hills.
While still near the glaciers, we took a trip over to Lake Matheson, a glacial lake not far away that happens to be well located to create a reflection of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. Unfortunately for us, that only happens when the lake is perfectly calm, and when we were there it was too ripply to see a reflection. Fortunately, it was still quite nice.
Heading Back East
After having our fun in Westland, we started heading back east towards Queensland, taking Haast Pass. There were numerous stopoffs along the way to see various waterfalls and rivers.
Along the way, we passed briefly through Mt. Aspiring National Park. I’ve heard amazing things about this particular national park, and, while we only saw a tiny part of it, I can see why it has such a good reputation (and I’ll have to go back to see the rest of it).
From Mt. Aspiring parks, the main highway heads south past two big awesome lakes, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, and you get the opportunity to drive alongside each of them.
We got to stop in the town of Wanaka itself, which had a nice lakefront and some good fish ‘n’ chips. It’s also the location of the next GSNZ geology conference, so I’m looking forward to getting back there for a lot longer next year, hopefully.
From there we finished things off for the day by heading west to get to Queenstown, passing Cardrona ski field along the way (have to come back during winter!).
As I noted (and will surely note again), it was a heck of a lot of driving, which was tiring, but the routes were so pretty and windy and fun that it was definitely worth the effort.