I took a wee trip down to The Glaciers a few weeks ago and I’m so glad I did!
The drive down the West Coast of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the finest in the world. This isn’t my claim, it is according to Total Travel and you can view what they say here. In my opinion the best part of the drive is actually between Charleston and Greymouth (where I started my journey) but even so the further south you go the more impressive the views become and the whole trip is a truly memorable one.
Southwards I went until I came to a place south of Hari Hari where it appears the locals have discovered a new cash-crop-
ragwort!! Some years ago this was declared to be a noxious weed but it would appear that local councils have put its eradication into the ‘too hard’ basket as it is as rampant on road verges as it is in this paddock! I hate the bloody stuff as do stock so one wonders why cockies wouldn’t be a bit more proactive in controlling its spread on their land. Oh well, their choice, I guess, seeing councils don’t seem to give a damn!
I also took a side trip in to see what the glacier flight setup was just north of Whataroa. It’s some way from Franz and Fox glaciers but I guess they have access to a few lesser known ones close by. It wasn’t an operation that would set the world on fire but I guess they must make enough helicopter flights to keep them in fuel with a bit left over for the groceries!! (Or until they sell their crop of ragwort, maybe?) The old road-bridge pillarswere quite impressive but the really impressive thing about the place was the lock they had on the door of their dunny! For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘dunny’ is a lavatory, toilet or, for our American friends, ‘bathroom’ [even though there’s not a bath within cooey!!]This the sort of security every littlest room should have! If you were REALLY pretencious you could always use a greenstone boulder!
South of Whataroa I took a side trip out to the Okarito Lagoon. People know this for the iconic kotuku or white heron that nest and breed there, but it is also a special place just to visit for views both of the lagoon
On south to the glaciers. I went through to Fox Glacier first and did a wee bit of business before taking a run out to Lake Matheson. This is a special wee gem but usually best visited in the calm of the morning because its claim to fame is the view of Aorangi Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain which is just 17km from Fox in The Alps) that is reflected in the lake’s calm waters, a bit like this.It is a famous view sometimes depicted on various NZ stamps and is much more impressive in winter with the snow on the mountains, but… you see what I mean.From Matheson I drove out to Gillespies Beach, an area that was mined for gold for many years. There is a nicely kept wee cemetery that’s worth a visit if you go there,
many of the headstones with dates going back well over 100 years. One gets the impression that not all of the graves have had much care lavished on themand that there are many unmarked graves on the fringes or even in the surrounding bush. There are old gold workings to be seen further down the beach and the beach itself is typical of the West Coast- long, sweeping and worth investigative rambling!
I came back from Gillespies and decided to have a look at the glacier as I hadn’t been to it for many, many years and all of the talk of our glaciers receding at alarming rates has made me wonder for some time what the difference of some decades would be. It was just short of dusk and as I drove into the car-park I saw a pair of young ladies walking in the middle of the road towards the glacier. They separated as I drove up and thus I stopped, wound down my window and jokingly said “You realise that by doing that I won’t be able to run you both over together!!” Luckily she laughed, her friend joined us and we walked together to view the face of the glacier.
What a shock. My hazy recollections had the face of the glacier being closer to the road than where the car-park was now, and that it was quite high and broad and ran from side to side of the valley!Now the terminal face isn’t a face at all and the volume of ice-field that ran up to the entrance to the valley proper is paltry. It was really quite sad. I probably bored the lovely company with my teacher upbringing coming to the fore and acting the glacier guide -a bit presumptuous seeing I hadn’t see the bloody thing for about 40 years! Very kindly they didn’t opt to eject me from the group and their company was very welcome.
I suppose the glacial melting will get worse before it gets better but the following gives some idea of what has happened up the road at Franz Josef over the decades and it is logical the same graphic for Fox would be just as awful. More about that soon.
I offered the young ladies a lift back to Fox Glacier township with the idea we have a coffee which they accepted as it was now past sundown and getting a bit chilly. After proper introductions it transpired Nicole was a young German lassie and Frida hailed from Sweden, and both worked at the local tourist hotel as part of their OEs. It was delightful to chat with them for a while and find out a wee bit about each other. I made hollow threats of dire consequences if they didn’t contact me when next in Greymouth before I took my leave and set off to find a place to stay.
Next morning I was in Franz Josef by about 7:30 and made myself a cup of coffee in the glacier carpark. It has to be said that the road in,the presentation of facilities, the information boards and so on are MUCH better at Franz Josef, although this didn’t impress me much (nothing to do with DOC, of course!) On the wall in one of the toilet cubicles-
Not impressed, tourist people!!!
The walk up to the terminal face was too far for me to contemplate that morning but the walk out onto the river flats was pleasant but again quite a shock. The series of pics above shows very graphically what has happened and it was alarming to picture where the face had been and how far it had moved up the valley.‘Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere’ has now disappeared around a corner and it is not until one completes a several km trek or takes to the air that the glacier is actually properly seen. One of the logical consequences of this is how people now experience the glacier- nowadays it is largely by air as it is getting to be a bigger and bigger tramp to even reach the glacier and today’s tourists desire things to happen somewhat quicker than can be achieved by foot! The buzz of helicopters and higher flying ski-planes is constant competition to the birdsong- I’d prefer just the birdsong!
One must do is a short excursion into the bush at the carpark, along a well-formed pathto reach Peter’s Pond, Franz’s answer to Lake Matheson.What a gem! It is a kettle lake which is simply where melt water from a glacier ice-block has been trapped in a natural erosion bowl in solid rock. This one is not very large but as you can see it’s beautifully positioned to give some gorgeous reflections!
Having done most of what I’d gone South to do I headed back home and kept pondering on the highlights of the trip. The weather was typical of the West Coast- brilliantly fine. The new places I visited were interesting. The glaciers were food for thought (although I think I am of the opinion that while global warming/greenhouse gases/ozone depletion are all buzz-wordy convenient excuses/explanations for glacial retreat we should not completely lose sight of the age-long cyclic nature of climate Earth. Don’t get me wrong, man’s influence on the planet is far from blameless in this regard but I have an optimistic bone or two that tell me that the glaciers will return. Doubtless I won’t be around to welcome them back!!!) The silence in some areas in the bush was a worry (1080?).
But doubtless the highlight of the trip was people. I met a couple of Yanks and we chatted about greenstone (they didn’t buy any of mine!) I picked up a hitch-hiking Israeli and our conversation was quite enlightening- I am not a fan of what the Israelis do on their own doorstep but this young lady had quite a refreshing attitude and this I found interesting because she was doing an OE having just completed 3 years of compulsory military conscription! I met an Argentinian couple who I chatted to about memorabilia and souvenirs, having seen them browsing displays of awful home-produced kitsch. (They didn’t buy any of my stuff either!!) And then, of course I met a young German and a young Swede. And that was the highlight. Two young visitors with perfect English who were happy to chat about this, and that, and the other, and who were effusive in their opinions of Aotearoa New Zealand. I had the impression that they weren’t peeing in my pocket, either, but were honestly happy to be here and enjoying the company of Kiwis they met. To have my home and fellow Kiwis praised so readily by visitors was balm to the soul!!
My time with Frida and Nicole was limited but it was a delight to be contacted by Frida a few weeks later to be told she was coming to Greymouth for the day, and would I like to meet her for coffee? Would I!!?? We met, completed her few errands then I took her home for lunch as she said she hadn’t had breakfast and was starving! We chatted for what was far too short a time and I then took her to meet her friends. It wasn’t until we had taken our leave of each other that it dawned on me that I might never see this young person again. Ever. This really gave meaning to the saying, “Ships that pass in the night”.
How often do we have such brief encounters and then go our separate ways? I know it is in the nature of the mobile world we live in, but…
Jag kommer att sakna dig.