Franz Josef, New Zealand (6th Mar 2008)
Punakaiki to Fox Glacier via Franz Josef
Driver: KaraDistance Travelled: 262.8 Km / 163.3 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 595.3 Km / 369.9 Miles
Day two didn't get off to the best start, after being savagely attacked by swarms of sand flies in the night; we woke up early, cold and covered in bites at our beautiful, free campsite next to the beach. We set off early destined to reach Franz Josef by the early afternoon and Fox Glacier by bedtime, but first we needed to stop and stock up on some warm clothes as we hadn't really thought things through too much before we decided that we were going to stomping around on freezing cold ice. We stopped off in the only big city that was on the way, Greymouth, and both managed to get ourselves a jumper, some gloves and a woolly hat so that we wouldn't freeze to death when we finally did make it there as we were heading to glacier country.
The road to the glaciers are rural, but with a bit of a wild streak; the farmland is trying to turn back into forest, and the beauty of the rivers is raw and primeval as they seem to shape the landscape anyway they want and nobody can stop them. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age. Mighty rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice carve out the rock valleys, they are classically beautiful in the glacial sense and nowhere else in the world have glaciers ever advanced so close to the sea at this latitude.
Not far into the journey we both had the scare of our lives that had the nearly gave us both a heart attack; we were travelling quite happily down a tree lined road when just as we came to the clearing a small plane flew right in front of us, about 30ft in the air and dropped fertilizer/insecticide all over the field and the road which we had to drive through for about 200 metres with 0 visibility, thank god it was a straight road we were on. It was terrifying as all we saw at first was a plane and a big cloud of what looked like smoke and Mark thought it was going to crash onto the road right in front of us; this is exactly the kind of drama we don't need, especially in a car were not used to and on windy little roads.
As we both needed the toilet we stopped in a small little town called Ross, a gold mining town. We had a quick look around and saw the old gaol and the quarry which is now a lake before getting back in the van as there wasn't really anything else to see, however we weren't disheartened too much as it was only meant to serve the purpose of a toilet break and we got to see another little place and learn a bit about NZ culture.
After yet another 200+ Km drive we arrived in Franz Josef our first major stop for the day and since we had arrived at the Glacier late we got suited up in our new jumpers, hats, and gloves and rushed off through the car park to get going on our walk to the world's fastest moving glacier which has been moving forward at a rate of about 1 metre a day since 1985. Before we set off out of the car park we had no real idea of what to expect and Mark had vague memories of a picture in an A Level Geology book, and Kara could just about remember the picture on fox glacier mint wrappers, anyway after a windy road up a dirt track we saw for ourselves what a glacier was! It was amazing and we managed to walk right up to the terminal face of it.
Franz Josef was amazing and is probably even more so on a clear day but it was still spectacular when it was overcast. We walked a quick ten minutes to a look-out point where we were faced with what was possibly an 8km round trip past a 'Danger' sign to get a closer view of the glacier. Of course we ventured out alone, passing a few people on the way along a rocky path that sometimes didn't even really exist and you had make it up as you went along. As we got closer to the glacier we saw huge chunks of ice appear in the river, which Mark decided he needed to pick up and throw around. After an hour we got to the foot of the glacier and from here we could see load of bright blue ice much of which formed a cave at the front which looked awesome, we could also pick out some other cool looking caves and a load of very thin chasms. After one more "Extreme Danger" sign we got as close as we could and even saw people climbing on top of the ice which must have been quite an experience but at $300+ we could quite stretch to it on this trip! On the way back we drank from the ice cold river which was gorgeous water and we were really lucky as it just started to chuck it down as we got back to the van.
On the way to Fox Glacier we passed Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain but we couldn't see the top as it was very cloudy but it was still as sight to see the fluffy white clouds hovering around the luscious green mountain. We made it to Fox and decided to drive to one of the recommended lookout point, what a mistake that was as all we got was a tiny view between the greenery so we then drove to the glacier itself and got a much better view but this time we decided not to walk right up to it as we were both feeling progressively worse and if we're been honest, we must say that we think the Franz Josef Glacier was more visually stunning than fox so doing this one after Franz wouldn't seem as good anyway.
We then made our way towards Lake Matheson which is a famous lake where you can see the glaciers in the distance and they are reflected in the lake, unfortunately for us it was starting to get quite cloudy by now and even started to rain a little bit for us, so we didn't quite get a picture as good as we've seen on all the postcards! We stopped off in the township of Fox and grabbed a few supplies before finding a little hideaway right by the road on the way out of town and we were tucked up in bed by 7 as we both felt horrendous and were continuously moaning luckily we managed to sleep straight through, and the next thing we knew it was 8 am in the morning and time to get going again.