Friday, 16 March 2012

Franz Josef Glacier

First view of the glacier

We were en route for Fox Glacier from Hokitika, but we had planned to stop off to see Franz Josef Glacier, about 20 km north, on the way. Starting at the car park you can already see the top of the glacier calling you.

You walk along a tarmac track, then quite suddenly the track emerges in a vast canyon. This was a real catch-your-breath moment, dramatic and unexpected. You cross a wooden bridge and then a winding track opens up, leading across towards the glacier.

We walked across this wonderful open space. Our sense of wonder was slightly dented by three American teenagers who were noisily running and jumping ... and talking in loud voices. I have no idea what he was talking about or even what he meant, but I did hear one boy say "No shit? ... Baad aass ... Sweet!" What language is that?

There was even a small waterfall coming down from the high sides - and almost inevitably, there was someone with his shirt off having a quick shower.

At the far side, you can't get right up to the mouth of the glacier without taking a organised tour, which we had decided we could do without, but the view of the is still pretty clear.

The surprising thing, not at all clear from the ground, is that the glacier is 12 km long. It is fed by a 20-square-kilometre snowfield. The unusual thing about it is that its mouth is so low down - only about 300m above sea level. It is also unusual in that it is currently advancing, unlike most glaciers in the world which are in full retreat under the influence of global warming. The reason for this is heavy snowfalls at higher levels. Historically, however it was much bigger: in the 1850s in reached right the way down the valley. Future projects are for a retreat from its current position.

Turning round to retrace our steps, the small river which flows from the glacial melt become more apparent, and looked quite dramatic in the gathering cloud.

Part of the way back along the tarmac track, we followed a detour to a viewpoint (lookout in NZ speak) which offered a wonderful view from a different angle.

We were so enjoying our exploration that when we returned to the car park we headed off in a different direction along another marked track. This took us past a small glacial lake, called Peter's Pool - named after a seven year old boy, Peter Westland, who camped here in 1909. As an explanation, this seems to leave many unanswered questions.

After a steady descent we came to a narrow swing bridge across the river. A notice insisted that no more than 4 people should be on the bridge at any one time. We felt the wisdom of this when two walkers appeared at the other end and it began to move madly.

The river was now a much more substantial waterway.

I couldn't resist the shape and colour of these rocks, viewed from above, at the side of the river.

The track over the river looked inviting, but it was time to resume our journey to Fox, so we returned to the car.

Conditions: warm, but mostly cloudy.

About 5 miles.

Rating: five stars.

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