Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Monday, November 21, 2005

We stopped in Ross en route to the glaciers, a gold mining town that reminded us of the wild west. In fact, there were even horse saddles slung over the rails at the saloon style cafe where we had a bite to eat. My new found mince pie obsession had to take a back seat as they'd run out! I made do with a bacon and egg toasted sarnie instead.

We arrived at Franz Josef early afternoon, and once again I'd scored highly in the tour guide stakes. I'd chosen a nice motel for us to stay in as we were having a couple of nights there, and we deserved some luxury after 'roughing it' for the previous 2 nights. Rainforest Retreat, described as "exceptional" by the Lonely Planet, had lovely family units with Sky TV, en suite and a nice little kitchen. Whatsmore, we were given numerous 'buy one get one free' vouchers for the on site bar...we'd definitely be making use of those!

Before then though, I wanted to go and see the glacier because the weather was holding up ok. I was aware that the forecast was a bit iffy for the next couple of days, so we had no time to waste if we wanted to get clear views.

We drove the 5km to the glacier carpark and set off on the 40 minute walk to the glacier terminal. It was a bit drizzly, but when we got our first glimpse of the glacier after 10 minutes, our view was pretty much unimpeded. I'd obviously seen it before, but I still couldn't help but be impressed, particularly as we got closer. The sheer scale of the glacier is, as Stu described it, "awesome."

Once we were at the terminal, we ambled up some rocks to admire the views. We could see lots of little dots high up on the ice - people who were doing guided day walks. I was looking through the binoculars when a Dutch girl I'd met at Shortbread Cottage approached and said she recognised me (I'm glad someone remembers me after encountering blank faces at Mahana Lodge!). She was travelling around with her parents, so we all stood around chatting for about half an hour - they were all lovely people. We realised how lucky we'd been in Kaikoura after the girl (whose name escapes me) said that she'd seen just 8 dolphins on her trip!

Once they had left, we hung around for a bit longer and I'm glad we did, as out of nowhere, a Kea swooped down and landed just metres away from us. It was Mum and Stu's first sighting of the beautiful, if slightly cheeky bird, and we all saw its bright red colours when it came in to land. I'd stayed in a place called the 'Kackling Kea' in Invercargill, and now I knew what it was referring to as it made such a noise. When it became clear that no food was on offer, the parrot-like bird flew off and gave us another showing of his colourful feathers. It was a great sight.

We walked back along the glacier valley, looking back every so often to get another glimpse. The clouds were dispersing and we could see the snow capped mountains towering above it. Before returning to the car park, we did the 20 minute return Sentinel Rock Walk which led to another spectacular viewpoint. I wanted us to do the Roberts Point Track as it is a real Indiana Jones-style walk with lots of swingbridges and mountain staircases. However, it closed just 2 days after I'd done it in July after rockfall destroyed one of the said staircases, and it was still closed some 4 months later!

As we were returning to the car, I spotted a familiar was Peter from Mount Maunganui! I gave him a shout and we chatted for a few minutes, and he asked if I wanted to catch up some more later in the evening. I agreed, although I was going out for a meal with Mum and Stu first as it was their wedding anniversary. Reason to celebrate, and we began early by taking advantage of the two for one vouchers at the bar! I had a couple of beers before returning to the room for a bit of a relax.

At 7pm, we walked down the street to the pub where I'd enjoyed a huge serving of chicken nuggets and chips on my last visit. I opted for a repeat performance, before crossing the road to meet Peter at Glow Worm Cottages. It was interesting to hear what he'd been up to, especially as he'd just spent 4 weeks in Wellington doing a TEFL style course. He was too tired to go out for a beer as he'd done a full day glacier walk, but we chatted in the kitchen for quite a while and reminisced about our kiwifruit days. Peter is the guy who snapped and packed it all in after one particularly bad day at the office!

I had a reasonable night's sleep at the motel, despite the snoring from a certain couple who were staying in my room! Some well timed coughs and my minidisc player managed to keep the effects of the grunting and groaning down to a minimum. I shouldn't complain though as apparently I've been guilty of the same offence in the previous 2 weeks!

I was surprised to wake up the next morning and see a fair amount of blue sky...I'd expected rain. So we didn't hang around, and were on our way before 9am. I wanted to travel 25km down the road to the glacier at Fox, and hopefully get some good reflective views at Lake Matheson.

We called off at Peter's Pool on the way to get a stunning reflective view of the Franz Josef glacier, made even more memorable by the fact that it was so quiet. I'd opted not to do it the previous day, partly because of the cloud, and partly because the big green Kiwi Experience bus was pulled in next to it...always a sign that you should go in the opposite direction!

On arrival in Fox, we decided to do the one hour Lake Matheson walk to start with while the sun was still shining, but unfortunately Mount Cook and Mount Tasman were mostly obscured by thick white cloud in the distance. I took consolation from the fact that they did appear briefly, looking very mysterious with the surrounding mist and cloud. However, their absence coupled with the slight breeze meant that Lake Matheson proved to be our first disappointment...there were no reflective views.

On a personal level, I couldn't complain as I'd seen the picture postcard view when I was travelling with Charlotte, but I was disappointed for Mum and Stu. Still, we'd been lucky up until that point, and we still had the mighty Fox Glacier to look forward to.

The Chalet Lookout Track was a 2 hour return walk that I'd enjoyed doing back in July, and I knew that Mum and Stu would like it too. It was quite taxing in places, but it was fun crossing over the large swingbridge and two rivers. It took a long time to cross the second river as we deliberated over which route we should take. In the end, I managed to get one of my feet wet but it was no problem, and we reached the lookout just 5 minutes later. It was a great view, and as there were other people already there, we got a great photograph of the 3 of us together with the glacier in the background.

The walk back was much easier as it was downhill, and within 40 minutes we were back at the car. Just prior to this, we got talking to a couple from Brisbane, and despite only knowing them for 5 minutes, they gave me their phone number and said I was more than welcome to stay with them when I pop over next week! To be honest, I probably won't as they live quite far away from the city centre, but it's nice to have the option.

Back in Franz, we economised and ate in that night. I went to the internet cafe while Mum and Stu drank numerous glasses of wine at the bar. I joined them later on and we sat outside as it was a lovely evening. Both of them agreed that the glaciers were pretty spectacular, and I got the feeling that they liked New Zealand! Well, what's not to like about it?

Our time together was passing fast, with only a few days left before I went to Australia. Luckily we had Wanaka to look forward to, and before that, a one night stopover on the road to Jackson Bay...
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