Glaciers, more Ice Cream and lots of Sandfly bites

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , West Coast,
Monday, February 20, 2012

Next we carried on with our journey up the west coast and into the mountainous area where there are several glaciers, the most famous being Fox Glacier and Frans Josef Glacier. 

 Fox Glacier was the first one that we came to and we took the walking track up to see the ice as close as they would let us go. It was a really cool walk (no pun intended) along a riverbed within a valley where the Glacier used to be. In recent years it has been receding so it was a fair walk to get up close to the ice. 

 There are loads of signs warning you of the dangers of the glacier as parts can fall off, river surges can occur, loose rocks can fall etc, but to be honest it all seemed a bit over the top. There were signs everywhere you looked both at the glacier and in and around the towns. Obviously we were quite happy to follow the guidelines but it was hard to see what all the fuss was about as you don't feel at all in danger and you're not even that close to the glacier which moves at about the same pace as a toenail grows. 

 However, the starkest warning was a sign with newspaper clippings of a couple of tourists who were killed when they ignored the safety barriers and an enormous block of ice fell off and crushed them. So, clearly it is dangerous... we'll follow the signs.

 This walk was merely a taster as the next day we were booked onto a trek actually on the Frans Josef Glacier, roughly 30 minutes North of Fox Glacier. Before heading to Frans Josef township for our trek, we went to Lake Matheson to see the reflected views of Mount Cook which annoyingly was covered in cloud and therefore there was no mountain to reflect even though it was a sunny day. Still, we couldn't complain as on the whole we've been really lucky with the weather and have had some incredible views all along the west coast. 

 One of the best of which was at Lake Paringa where we camped for one of the nights. In the morning, the water was so calm, still and dark that all of the peaks surrounding the river were reflected in a near perfect reflection. In fact we must have been lucky as our photo looks as good as the one in the guide book.

 Anyway, back to the Glaciers. We checked into the trekking centre, got all kitted out with proper boots, crampons, coats, hats, socks etc and then made our way to the Frans Josef Glacier where we had to walk for an eternity just to get somewhere near the Glacier (Apparently in the 80's the glacier was much nearer the car park... they're living in hope it will come back of they may have to move that car park otherwise). It was a good walk though and we walked by a number of waterfalls, through forest and on the riverbed before we got up to the mighty Glacier itself.

 It was really amazing to see a real glacier up close and the size of it was pretty awe-inspiring. Most of it you can't even see, when we were on the Glacier our guide told us we were on roughly 60 metres of ice and we were very low down on the Glacier. 

 Walking on the ice felt really strange and initially you just don't trust that your crampons will actually keep you safe and stop you from slipping but then nobody in our group fell so they must be pretty effective (more effective than ice skates based on my experience). It was so much harder walking on the rocks that had fallen and were sitting on the ice than the actual ice itself. 

 Once you're out on the ice you realise what all the safety signs are banging on about. The Glacier is an absolute beast and is quite unpredictable. Experienced tour guides have a good idea of where is and isn't safe but to the untrained eye it would be really hard to tell and when the glacier melts and ice falls you don't want to be anywhere near. Ice blocks the size of two Campervans can fall, and under that much ice you'd have no chance. Even whilst we were up there we would hear crashes from the sides and  I definitely wouldn't have wanted to be there without our guide. 

 The trek was awesome, we explored only a small area of the glacier but it takes quite a while to get around especially as you're mostly going up hill. We also had to stop quite regularly for our guide to make it safe by clearing rocks, knocking down sections of unsturdy ice and shaping stairs into the ice using a pick. 

 A lot of the ice was covered in rocks and dust as the previous week had seen a lot of debris falling from the mountain causing a massive dust cloud to settle on top of the ice. However where sections had fallen off more recently we could see the white and blue ice like you would hope it to be. We went into a couple of ice caves and even walked over a small ice bridge (which didn't look strong enough but fortunately was). None of this is a tourist site as such, it's just the way that the Glacier forms as it melts and it was so interesting. 

 At the foot of the glacier there is a river which flows pretty fast and had large chunks of ice floating down. When we were there it hadn't rained in over a week so all of the water flowing was coming from the melting glacier. A few weeks ago a massive block of ice fell and blocked the whole river, behind it all the melted ice started to build up and up with the ice block acting as a dam. Eventually it gave way with a similar effect of a Tsunami, hence why they say to stick to the paths and look for the latest safety information before setting off. 

 So that was pretty awesome and certainly an experience we won't forget in a hurry. It gives you a new found respect for the original explorers. 

 We then continued North along the coast with yet more amazing and beautiful views. This time they were stunning coastal views for miles and miles and miles, and hardly anyone was on any of the beaches. We stopped pretty randomly on the side of the highway to take some photos and I spotted a pod of Hectar dolphins swimming and fishing just off the beach. We went to take photos for quite a while until I could eventually drag Katy off the beach and we could get back on the road. But every few kilometres we had to pull over and explore further as the area is just awesome! It's a really beautiful Ocean road which feels quite untouched, we'll have to let you know if Australia's Great Ocean Road is better or not!

 After Frans Josef township, the next town we stopped at is the biggest on the west coast but still pretty small, called Greymouth. There is one attraction here, the Monteith's brewery so we thought we would check out their tour and try some kiwi beer. Unfortunately the tour wasn't being run fully as their factory is being rebuilt so we could only do a brewery experience, which entailed a 15 minute DVD followed by a tasting session. As tasting was still on the cards we went ahead. The DVD was pretty awful but the tasting was great and we tried 7 different beers and their cider (which was awesome cider) and had to have a bit of  time out before carrying on with driving. The 7 tasters and a complimentary beer afterwards on an empty stomach left me in a slightly questionable driving state. We think the tour would have been much better with some other people also at the tasting just to allow for a bit more time between tasters and a slightly less intense situation. Oh well, free beer is free beer! 
Onwards and upwards we then got to Punakaki where there are rocks which looked like they have been stacked up like pancakes... called.... guess what?.... Pancake Rocks! We took loads of photos there, had a mandatory ice-cream and then got back on the road. 

 Other stops on the way were Buller Gorge, Abel Tasmin National Park and Nelson and to risk repeating myself yet again.... it's beautiful!  So we've done a lot along the way.

 The sand-flies and mosquitoes haven't let up at all. If anything, the further north we've gone, the worse they have become. We have citronella candles, 80% deet repellent and bug spray and we have still been bitten a hell of a lot. Katy became a killer.... no a mass bug murderer with the bug spray. I went to pay our campsite fees, so was gone for about 5 minutes. When I got back to the van, Katy was sat with the dustpan and brush sweeping up thousands of tiny black bodies from the  car floor, and the windows of the van have become bug killing fields. They are a nightmare and are the only negative thing about the west coast of New Zealand!

 Well, that's sadly it for South Island but we WILL be back! 
 And yup, the van's fuel gauge is still broken... and no, we haven't run out of petrol yet. 
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Ann on

I took Grandma glacier walking in Norway....... it is something else isn't it!! These photos brought back all those memories x

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