Franz Josef to Haast

Trip Start Nov 01, 2009
Trip End Nov 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Pleasant Flats DOC campsite

Flag of New Zealand  , West Coast,
Wednesday, July 7, 2010


We drove to Franz Joseph Glacier where we had heard there were some good hikes, or tramps as people in New Zealand call them. We chose to tramp up to the terminal face of the glacier, a round trip which should take about 1.5 hours, that we managed to drag out to take about 2 hours.

The walk took us along a flat grey rocky landscape in the bottom of the valley floor. Through the rocks a bulldozer seemed to have been used to make a path which led us over a couple of streams coming from the glacier face. Eventually the path led us to a fence which I think was about 100m from the front of the glacier. Distances were hard to judge, and it was only when you saw people who had paid to walk on the glacier, actually clambering up it, that you realised how big it was.

At the fence were warning signs about falling ice, water surges and rock falls with pictures of stick men who had been captured in various awkward situations such as being taken down a river with rocks and ice. The glacier, as quiet as it looked was clearly a powerful force, evidenced by the landscape around us. The whole time helicopters and light aircrafts took it in turn to view the glacier above us, as tourists made the most of the clear day by paying for a birds eye view.

Leaving the glacier we headed to Lake Matheson from where you could see Mount Cook. Having heard that you can’t visit New Zealand without seeing this mountain, we were fairly keen to catch a glimpse.

Lake Matheson didn’t disappoint, girls we spoke to the night before knew it as mirror lake, and it was obvious why. There was a perfect reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the lake, with only the occasional duck flap causing any ripples. We decided to walk round the lake which took much longer than expected, and once we got back to the car park we were starving.

After lunch it was time for our second glacier of the day; Fox Glacier.

The walk to the terminal face was much the same as at the Franz Joseph Glacier, although you got the impression that the path needed more maintenance due to water flowing from the glacier in streams that regularly changed their path.

The walk took an hour on a side of the valley which hadn’t got any sun, so people were sliding all over the place on the ice. I held onto Gem, and she held onto me, so at least if we fell we would fall together. We outlasted about eight waves of people at the face of the glacier, some people walked to it, blinked and then walked back. I do expect however that we probably stand and stare at things more than the average tourist.

After two glaciers in one day we headed down the coast at about 4 pm passing a fence on the road side of a field, which had been made into a ‘clothes line’ for bras and knickers by passing motorists. For some reason in this area people also seemed to put wellies on posts at the end of their driveways.

As the sun was setting the road met the coast again at Bruce Bay. We had heard that this beach was famous for rounded white pebbles but we didn’t expect to see the road side of the beach lined with cairns and driftwood which people had positioned into weird and interesting structures. People before us had collected stones on the beach and written messages on them; names, birthdays etc. The messages were written in luminous pen, black markers and in some cases tip-ex. We also added to the mammoth work of art with two cairns and one stone with a message on it. This was our final act of the day, and by leaving our mark it felt like we had become part of New Zealand. We spent ages reading stones, spotting different things, and like the glaciers before, people stopped, looked and drove off while we found it hard to leave.

Eventually however we had walked the length of the beach and we drove on to Haast, leaving Bruce Bay at 5.15 pm.

At Haast Township we had the culinary experience which we had been looking forward to the entire time we had been in New Zealand - ‘Fush and Chups.’ I also managed to get the lady behind the counter to confirm our order by pointing vaguely at the board and saying ’I’d like two of those please.’ This meant I got to hear the ’I’s’ pronounced as ’U’s.’ The fish was tasty but quite small and we had to pay 40c each for tiny ketchups. This would have been fine if some locals hadn’t walked in and sat next to us, each getting a huge fish and a bottle of ketchup for the table. I tried to block this injustice out though, and still left feeling very satisfied.

In the darkness, having been advised by people in the fush and chup shop to drive to the ‘condutions‘, we headed halfway up the road to Haast Pass to a DOC campsite at Pleasant Flats. It was more than a little unnerving to stay in a campsite that we hadn’t seen in the day and we were both slightly jumpy as we thought we heard noises outside and then began to wonder if a car that drove into the campsite had left or parked next to us, and why the car had driven in the campsite and left. We were pretty freaked…but at least it was a free night’s sleep.
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