Today we saw the West Coast of the South Island - for the first time - in all it's wild wonder.
After a night of relentless rain in Haast, the sun broke briefly through the clouds in the morning. The owner of the hostel had told us that the rain on the wet west coast falls mainly in the evenings. We gave a lift to a young couple who had no other means of transport. I felt it was my duty, as a former hitchhiker, to return the favour and also, as we were heading in the same direction, it made sense. We stopped at a couple of places along the way, including a beach littered with driftwood (and annoying sandflies!) as well as a salmon farm.
Once we reached Fox Glacier, we dropped off the couple and went on a walk to the glacier. It was amazing to see the corrosive effect that the river of ice has had on the surrounding landscape over thousands of years. However, as we drove up to the start of the walk, we passed several signs which indicated where the glacier had been when Cook arrived in New Zealand in the mid-18th Century. It soon became obvious that the glacier has receded several kilometres over the past few decades (most likely, due to the effects of global warming).
From the carpark, the walk up to the glacier viewing point is about 1km. You're not allowed to walk to the face of the glacier as it is quite dangerous - there is a life-sized cardboard cutout of a park ranger holding out his hand to signal that you should stop and go mo further. Also, to emphasise the point, there's a board with newspaper stories of the people who have died over the past few years after they have ignored the signs and ventured past the safety zone. We witnessed huge boulders of rock and ice falling off the edges when we sat at the lookout point to eat our lunch. We could even hear the glacier creaking and the sound of ice cracking and groaning - it sounded as if it was alive!
The only way you can get close to the glacier is if you pay for a guided walk or a helicopter ride - both of which are very expensive and neither I nor Wendy had strong feelings about going in the glacier. It's beautiful to look at but I didn't feel the need to climb it or pay loads of money to fly over or onto it.
So, we decided to move on to the Franz Josef glacier as well as it is only 25km further north. By the time we reached the glacier footpath (late afternoon), the weather had taken a turn for the worse and you could barely see the tops of the mountains. Then, of course, it started to rain...
We stayed for the night at a hostel in the village. The fan heater in the room was on a timer and quite noisy, so I froze and could hardly get any sleep. I ended up wearing several layers of clothes (including my hat!), but nothing could remove the damp chill from my bones. Woke up at the crack of dawn with cold hands and a sore throat. Not a happy camper...