Glacier Wonderland

Trip Start Jan 19, 2008
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, February 1, 2008

We left the Queenstown district heading north west to Franz Josef  via Albert Town, Hawea, Haast and the Fox Glacier. The quickest way was by revisiting Arrowtown and then on to Arrow Junction where we joined the Gibston Highway for a couple of  kilometres. We then turned left onto the Crown Range Road that took us to Wanaka through some spectacular countryside with the road twisting and turning in every direction imaginable to traverse the mountainous terrain. We stopped frequently to take photos and to admire the views across the valleys to the mountains on the other side.

Just before Wanaka we came to Puzzling World with its display of  buildings standing at all different angles that it is indeed a mystery how they stay standing.  After a brief stop we carried on into Wanaka, a small own standing on the southern end of Lake Wanaka.  It is primarily a resort town and, being surrounded by mountains, has opportunities for year round outdoor activities such as hiking or mountain biking in summer to skiing in winter. There is a collection of wineries in the area and due to its climate it is also a popular place for retirees to spend the winter of their lives.

We pressed on passing many touring cyclists and a flock of sheep being driven down the road which took ages to pass because they covered the whole road.  Eventually we got through by continually blowing the horn while nudging one sheep after the other forcing a passage to the front of the flock. We drove along Lake Wanaka and through the forests of Mount Aspiring National Park with rivers and waterfalls visible from the road.  We crossed the Haast Pass where we stopped at the Gates of Haast Bridge to walk down to the waterfall where we found yet another Swiss tourist to chat to. This road has quite a few long one way bridges which keep you on your toes as you never know when you will meet a vehicle coming the other way though thankfully there was not much traffic the day we were there. There were many more kilometres of forest before we entered the small town of Haast. The local cafe was advertising Blue Cod with the best chips in New Zealand so we put in our order and sat with a cold drink waiting for them to be cooked.  After a very satisfying meal we set off again to our next stop, Fox Glacier, passing many more trees, mountains and lakes along the way.  We turned off down a 4km dirt road and stopped in the glacier carpark and took a walk along the path to the base of the glacier glistening in the bright sunshine. After this we went on to Franz Josef where we found our accommodation at the Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park.  At the reception Margaret picked up a leaflet at the reception offering special prices for a helicopter flight over the Glazier and as the weather was good with forecast of rain the next day it seemed a good idea to go immediately. Needless to say I gave in to her pleading and we took a short drive to the helipad.  I had flown in helicopters during my military service in Rhodesia so I didn't join her but she came back full of excitement and with a big smile on her face which made the expense worthwhile. Our room at the holiday park was on the first floor of a large house.  We had our own bathroom and toilet but had to share the kitchen area with another couple in an adjacent room. This was not a problem as the mother and daughter seemed to eat out so we had it to ourselves except first thing in the morning when they made their early morning cuppa.

Friday 1st February we woke to a warm but cloudy day and drove back along the main road until we reached the access road to the Glacier. This was another four kilometres of dirt which made the car very dirty. After parking the car we had a pleasant walk along a track through the forest until we came to the river.  We then walked along the rocky river bed until we reached the glacier.  Signs near the barrier that read that it was dangerous to proceed further without the services of a guide kept us from going to touch the ice. The wonder of this act of nature is difficult to take in.  The glacier is  currently 12 kilometres long and terminates 19 kilometres before the river enters the Tasman Sea. We had a great time studying the river bed and jumping from rock to rock on our way back to the car. We took our last look at the glacier from a well placed lookout before returning to the village. We were delighted to see a mobile butchers van parked in town as we needed to buy some meat for our evening meal. The butcher sold us some nice porterhouse steaks and talked us into buying some of his chicken and herb sausages which turned out to be a big mistake. In the afternoon it began to rain and Mike took advantage of the wet weather to wash the dirt off the car so there he was in the car park dressed in his raincoat washing the car in the rain!  As evening closed in he went over to the BBQ area and cooked the sausages while Margaret prepared a salad. He tasted the sausages while cooking them and thought they tasted a bit funny but as they were chicken and herbs he thought it was the herbs giving them their funny taste. After dinner and a couple of hours later he was laying on the toilet floor hurling into the pan. This carried on all through the night and it was a very delicate man that packed our suitcases and carried them down the stairs to the car the next morning. We left Franz Josef with some very pleasant memories and some that weren't so good.
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