New Zealand 2001 (Part 4)
I left Moteuka the day before yesterday (when you are on holiday, days/dates don't really mean much!). Moteuka is up in northern part of the South Island. It was really pretty there and actually reminded me of Sonoma. The Marlborough region is famous for its wines and I have been sampling some very good Rieslings and gewürztraminers. Anyways, it was very dry up there and it was considered an extreme fire hazard. I headed south planning to cross over to the west coast. The road was pretty curvy and I was starting to feel a bit queasy, but the scenery was fantastic. Once I crested the mountains that run down the South Island, I found myself in Buller's Gorge going toward the coast following the river. Once on the other side of the mountains, the climate changed dramatically. Now it was all lush green trees and raging rivers. Very nice.
I continued south and finally made the Westcoast. Here the coastline sort of reminded me of Ireland. Mountains on my left, the sea on the right, and green farm land in between with lots and lots and lots of sheep. I stopped for lunch in a town called Hokitika, which is well known for its greenstone (jade) carvings. Then it was back in the car and again south along the coast towards my destination, the Franz Joseph Glacier. I made it to Franz Joseph about 230PM and I was wiped out. I had started driving at 730AM and had pushed pretty hard. Then I needed to arrange my glacier hike. There are two glaciers here, Franz Joseph and the Fox Glacier, separated by about 30kms. While I was staying in Franz, I decided to hike Fox. The book said that it was the easier to hike. (Please remember this point).
So the next day I'm up early and head south to the Fox Glacier. While it is only 20kms, it takes about 30-45 minutes to drive since the road is very twisty. I arrive at the operations base of Alpine Guides where it appears that my boots aren't going to cut it. The crampons need a groove behind the heel, which mine doesn't have, or it will cut into the leather. So I change boots and grab a rain jacket as well even though it is sunny outside. Hauling a jacket up on the glacier is the best form of insurance against bad weather. Fox and Franz Joseph are 2 of only 3 temperate glaciers in the world. The other is the Perrito Morreno glacier in Patagonia, which I have actually ice hiked on. Let's reflect on that a bit shall we. In Patagonia, the bus picked us up for a quick 10 minute ride to the lake. Then it was a 20 minute boat ride across the lake to the glacier, and then a short 5 minute walk to the glacier terminal. Okay, that was Patagonia, that's not New Zealand. Oh we board a bus for a 10 minute ride, but then we need to hike up the valley to get to the glacier terminal. The key word here is UP. And I mean UP, UP, UP, and UP!! We start walking UP the side of the valley. We leave the boulders and enter part of the forest wwhich is a temperate rain forest. It's a bit damp as we continue walking UP the hill. There are parts where they have put narrow boards across the small streams for us to cross and sometimes we are actually walking UP some small streams basically hopping from wet rock to wwet rock. It's quite a little goat trail we are on. Then the goat trail ends and there is an aluminum ladder for us to climb UP to catch the next goat trail. Here the guide asks us to hold onto the chain on the side of the mountain as the trail narrows a bit and there is a 120m drop just to our right. So we continue UP. Now I know you are thinking, "Oh Trey, he's just exaggerating how far UP he really climbed." Okay bite me. At our highest part on the trail (not the glacier mind you) it was over 580m (1m=3.3 ft). Do the math. Oh and this was all in less than an hour. Was Trey feeling the burn? Oh (insert expletive) yes. But we were finally at the glacier. We put out crampons on and started up (surprise!) the glacier. It was a bit dirtier that the one in Patagonia, but just as fascinating. The glacier had carved out a huge valley and was in the process of retreating, so there was quite a bit of water running off the glacier. We climbed . . . and climbed. The weather was very good and the different colors of blue in the ice just amazing. We hike for about an hour and then stopped for the lunch we all had brought.
Then we left the established route and just explored a bit climbing up and down the different crevasses and looking at how the different parts of the glacier were formed. Our guide proceeded to lead us towards a huge waterfall on the side of the glacier. It was very impressive. But then it was time to head back and that's where the adventure came in. Apparently, our guide didn't really have a good sense of directions or maybe he didn't want to go back the way we came. All I know is that it took us forever to get off the glacier. He lead us into 3 or 4 dead ends that required us to backtrack quite a bit and there were some places where we climbed up or down that made me more than a bit nervous. I did fall once, but didn't get hurt. On our trek back, we did find a small ice cave. I climbed in and discovered that it was very small and full of really cold water. We finally did make it down the glacier, but it wasn't pretty. NNow remember, the guide book said this was the easier of the two to climb! On the way back down the goat trail, our little psycho guide decides to take a "short cut" through the bush to the front face of the glacier. I would call this a goat trail, but that would imply that a goat could find it much less follow it. Oh we went down, through wet moss covered hills and rocks and little streams. I am so amazed that someone did not fall and hurt themselves. Especially me, the king of sprained ankles. By the time we got back to base camp I was exhausted and only thinking about the hot tub that my hotel had. So I swapped boats and then drove back to Franz Joseph only to find that the hot tub was broken. Just not happy.
The next day I was up early again. It seems I have a great skill in underestimating how long it will take to drive somewhere on these great little roads, but I knew the drive to Te Anau was going to be a long one. I drove back through Fox Glacier and continued south along the coast. It was another fabulous day, though there were bits of ground fog. I've been passing over these quaint little one-lane brides wwhere one side or the other "gives way" pretty well. Today I hit one that wooden and had a load limit. It really doesn't give you a feeling of confidence. The other little thing I keep doing is over-focusing on the driving and sort of forget about the gas tank. Three times now I've been a tick away from E (or below) and am panicked about finding a town with a gas station. Some of these little towns don't have their own gas station; so just making it to the next town doesn't necessarily solve the problem. I stopped at Bruce Bay, a beautiful big bay with a nice beach and crashing waves for a photo op. But when I returned to the car, it apparently had been invaded by sand flies, nasty little buggers. I spent the next hour driving trying to kill them before I became just one big bug bite. I'm not sure I succeeded. After leaving the coast, I followed the Haast River inland up an amazing river valley. The skies were clear and the mountains wwere just majestic. South I continued, past gorgeous mountain lakes through valley filled with golden grass. It makes me think what Alaska might look like in the summer. Just so picturesque. I passed the original AJ Hackett Bungee site, which if I have time I might try out, as I passed through Queenstown. Queenstown has 4 bungee sites! But later, I still had bit more to drive. It was another 2 hours to Te Anua and I pulled in around 4PM. I found my motel and then walked around the town a bit. This is the starting point for most of the trips to Doubtful and Milford Sounds.