The Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers were high on the list of things to see while travelling through New Zealand. The glaciers are famous for being the largest active glaciers that flow into a rainforest. Think about that for a moment!
On the night of our arrival we grabbed several brochures and tried to determine our best way to visit the star attractions. We seriously contemplated a helicopter tour that landed on the glaciers and then allowed you to hike around for a bit. We just couldn't get past the $400 price tag per person. The other option was to join a daily guided tour that allowed you to hike up the glaciers for a couple hours.
Again, the main struggle was the costs. NZ has a way of draining the bank account with all of its incredible adventures! As unemployed travellers only a quarter of the way into our trip, we find ourselves constantly battling between adventure and dollars. The struggle is determining what is worth the almighty dollar and what needs to be skipped in order to have enough money to eat in five months. The irony is that if we don't do the things we want to do, then what is the point of being here?
We were also tempted by a private hot bath attraction, and with the weather hovering around zero it was another tough decision. So we did what most would do in this situation... we flipped a coin! The fiscally responsible gods won the two out of three coin flip battle and fate decided we would not join an expensive guided tour onto the glacier. We knew that this meant we would not be allowed to actually walk on the glacier, so we decided it was best to just hike around the glacier and see what the guided tour looked like first. If it looked like a must do, then we would stay another night and do it the following day.
We woke up the next morning to a brisk, bitter chill that left most vehicles with a layer of frost. Excited to see the famous landmarks, we quickly ate breakfast and were on our way to do the hour hike to the Franz Joseph Glacier. It was a very memorable moment when we first caught a glimpse of the glacier in the distance while driving to the carpark. A moment not to be forgotten. The glacier is so big and impressive, and yet so odd and foreign looking. It looked like a large caterpillar of blue-white ice wedged between two mountains, trying to escape from the cold above and flowing towards the forest.
We hiked along the river banks through the old glacier path that was now a channel of rock and sand. The glacier has retreated considerably over the past hundred years, by several hundred feet! Seeing the glacier first hand and where it used to reach makes one realize the true effect of global warming. As we marvelled at the steep iceface and took our photos, several groups of tourist ice trekkers approached. This would have been us. Although we were disappointed that we could not hike on the ice, we were glad that we were not a part of the several 15 person groups walking in a jammed, unnatural, single-file line through previously carved trails. It seemed a little too manufactured for us so we decided against it (but maybe that's just sour grapes because they gt to climb on the ice?).
We left the Franz Joseph Glacier and drove the 30 minutes to the neighbouring Fox Glacier. We had intended to do a two hour hike leading up to the glacier but when we arrived we found out that a rockslide had made the area unstable. So the trails were not open to unguided tourists. Fortunately we were still able to view the glacier from the lookout point though. It too was a magnificant natural wonder. Check out the photos to see what we mean.
With the hike to Fox glacier essentially closed, we decided to visit Gillespies Beach where there was a 3 hour hike to a sea lion colony. We drove down a one way gravel road through a dense, lush rainforest for about 40 minutes before hitting the beach's carpark. The hike took us to an incredible isolated beach that didn't have a soul in sight. At that brief moment in time we owned that entire beach! Then it got interesting. We walked to the absolute end of the beach where there was a large cliff that blocked further walking (without swimming in the fierce, crashing waters). There was a big lagoon to the right but no trail?
Long story short, the lagoon had flooded the trail and we could no longer pass. So no sea lions that afternoon! It wasn't a big deal given that we had seen several sea lions already on our trip, but there was a moment where we thought we were actually loosing our minds trying to find the trail. It would have been nice for someone to tell us this or at least put up a sign! I guess its more fun figuring it out on your own? Still feeling like we had more in the tank, we drove to Lake Matheson and did the hour and a half circuit around the lake. Lake Matheson is famous for its reflection of Mount Cook in the still waters.
We left Glacier Country late afternoon and drove another 2 hours to a small town called Haast, this was our new home for the night. We read through our broochures and books and learned that about an hour drive off the course would take us to Jacksons Bay, which is known for its penguin and sea lion colony. Say no more! Disappointed that we had not seen a penguin yet, we quickly added Jacksons Bay to the itinerary for the following morning. But the trip gave us the same result. No penguins, and no sea lions. We reckon it just wasn't meant to be.
So we jumped back in our mobile tent and pushed on!