Welcome to Glacier Country…

Welcome to Glacier Country…

After the adrenaline rush and excitement of Queenstown, we were ready for a relaxing, scenic drive towards the West Coast of New Zealand. We had camped by the side of Lake Hawea after leaving Queenstown so after waking up the next day we set off over the Glacier-carved Haast Pass – the lowest pass of the majestic Southern Alps.

The drive was almost as dramatic as the drive to Milford Sound a few days earlier, with waterfalls tumbling from the striking green mountains that lined the road. We stopped at several waterfall lookout spots along the way which broke up the drive nicely.

Fantail Falls
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Thunder Creek Falls
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Roaring Billy Falls
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Once we reached the town of Haast we stopped for lunch before visiting the DOC (Department of Conservation) visitor centre. Once again, the DOC had provided a fantastic information centre which was chock full of displays giving detailed explanations of the history and geology of the area. The West Coast of New Zealand is renowned for its rugged, remote natural beauty and we learnt a lot about the main features of the coast and its native wildlife.

After spending a couple of hours in the centre we drove around to Haast Beach and parked up in a holiday camp for the evening.

The next morning it was time to head north towards ‘Glacier Country’ home of the famous Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We first reached Fox Glacier town and went straight to the Fox Glacier Guiding office to find out what ice walks we could sign up for. Once again however, the weather had thwarted our plans and we were told that all guided ice walks had been cancelled for the rest of the day. This was due to heavy rainfall overnight which had caused some flooding near the glacier and within the valley, rendering the paths unsafe.

We were really disappointed as we were looking forward to being able to walk on a glacier, but you can’t help the weather so we just had to do the next best thing. We drove along the Glacier Access Road to see how close we could actually get. Usually it’s possible to walk to the foot of the glacier but as the path was closed we had to make do with a view from the car park.

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We could also see big chunks of ice floating in the Fox River, which was a strange site to see.

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Us being us, we weren’t satisfied and still wanted a closer look. We were told about another path that wasn’t closed, the Chalet View Lookout track. We made our way over to the starting point and set off. The walk started off well – a gradual climb through forest alongside the Fox River, but we were soon stopped by a fast flowing stream blocking our path. After watching two other walkers successfully cross it we decided to try our luck.

Richard went first and made it halfway across before I followed. However, when I stepped onto one of the boulders it disappeared from under my feet and I went flying head first into the water! Landing abruptly on a pile of rocks wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences, neither was dunking myself into freezing cold glacial water, but apart from a few scrapes I was more embarrassed than hurt!

The water level seemed to have risen after a few minutes and with one of the stepping stones now missing, Richard then found himself slightly stuck in the middle of the stream.

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He was anxious to get back over to see if I was okay but had to make his way upstream and ‘Bear Grylls’ his way back with a big stick that he found poking out of the water. I didn’t feel much like carrying on this walk so we retraced our steps and did the nice and easy 15 minute walk to a different lookout!

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The weather was still pretty grotty, but we then decided to visit Lake Matheson, around 6km from the town, where it is sometimes possible to see a reflection of Mount Cook in its waters. Obviously, the only place that the clouds were congregated was over the Southern Alps , so we couldn’t see a thing!

Fox Glacier hadn’t proved to be particularly successful for us so we said our goodbyes and headed along to nearby Franz Josef Glacier. This time, we had much better luck as pathways were still open. We were able to get really close to the blue-tinged glacier itself, as well as getting great views from the lookouts.

Franz Josef Glacier from start of valley walk
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Gigantic Franz Josef
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At the foot of Franz Josef
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Franz Josef up close
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Richard then went up to the Sentinal Rock viewpoint for another look.

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Our day of glacier hunting had taken it out of us, so we did a bit of shopping in Franz Josef village and then drove a bit further up the coast to park up for the night. We stayed in a ‘recreation area’ just outside Whataroa which turned out to be a parking area for helicopter scenic flights. We watched the helicopter swoop in and out a few times, before calling it a night.

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