For Brenna

Brenda is a lovely friend of mine who lives in ‘Away’- that’s that country that is anywhere that is not The Coast. The Coast? That’s the narrow strip of land between the Southern Alps and the sea on New Zealand’s South Island. I took a niece and her daughter on a wee trip to ‘The Glaciers’ and I promised Brenda I would show her some perdy pictures of this lovely part of Aotearoa New Zealand. So……

Just south of here is a lovely wee lake, Mahinapua.

It’s just wee thing but is a good illustration of our glacial history. It’s perhaps 30-40 kilometers to the Alps but many thousands of years ago the ice rivers that flowed off them reached the sea, just a couple of hundred meters away.

Down The Coast is Okarito- and this sign is a real warning. Kiwi live in the area in large numbers.


Okarito is a beautiful lagoon where the famous white heron or kotuku rookery is situated. They can’t be seen from the road but the lagoon is very pretty.


The beach here at Okarito is showing how steady erosion is becoming a factor in many places.

WP_20150308_018[1]The black sand is a good source of alluvial gold which is mined in many places on The Coast. Hard work but rewarding.

But our main purpose was to visit the two principal glaciers on this side of The Hill- Fox and Franz Josef. I’ve been visiting these on and off since the late 60s and it is astonishing how far they have receded in that time, but more scarily over the last decade or so!

We went to the settlement of Fox Glacier first, deciding to have a look at one of our iconic NZ lakes- Lake Matheson that has become world famous for its wonderful reflections.

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This pic is from an earlier winter trip. It’s a pretty special place, winter or summer!

We then visited Fox Glacier itself. It’s probably less spectacular than Franz, but it used to be the better one to view- the track to the viewing point climbing along the valley wall so you were able to look down on the lower parts of the ice flow. Not so much nowadays as the glacier has gone so far up the valley it is now difficult to reach it, let alone get to view it from above. (This is possible of course from the air and the buzz of helicopters is constant from 8am until 6pm every day.)

fox glacier
You get an idea of the pace of melting that’s happening given these two photos are separated by no more than 12 months!!!

It is an awesome valley with wonderful cliffs and beautiful waterfalls- even after a long period without rain.




After a very pleasant sojourn in one of the hostelries in Franz Josef, where Chontelle’s steak was awful (the first one and the redo!!) and my braised lamb-shanks were superb!! we slept the sleep of The Just and then headed to Franz Josef Glacier. The day didn’t dawn all that well but breakfast was going to give it a chance to improve!!


Our first visit was a side track to one of my favourite places- Peter’s Pond. What a gorgeous quiet place to gather one’s thoughts and reflect on how lucky we are! This was formed by ice-melt when the glacier broke up hundreds of years ago. It is now some way up that valley in the distance.

peters pond reflection

It is certainly an eye-opener when you see illustrated so clearly how far the glacier has receded over the years!

WP_20150309_009[1]When I first came here the glacier was filling the area at the head of the river. Now the track winds past that for another 4-500 meters. I guess it’s easy to blame global warming but I wonder what the next ice-age will bring?
The glacier itself is still magnificent but best seen from the air. From the valley floor you see just a tiny fraction of the ice flow which starts in earnest at the top of this view then heads back up the valley to the right, almost to the summit of The Alps.
It is majestic country and we are sort of shown our significance somewhat when we wander here. Just to think that just a few hundred years ago all of this valley was covered in a river of ice hundreds of feet thick, so let’s not put ALL of the glacial-melt down to our folly and global warming- they’ve been receding for much longer than we’ve been buggering things up!!

From Franz we headed homeward taking a wee detour just out of Hokitika to view the beautiful Hokitika Gorge, a narrow chasm the beautiful blue river flows through. The river is always this colour (or brighter when the sun is shining brightly) because of the origins in the ice-fields just a few hundred feet up the Alps.
And so a pleasant wee bush walk to end a lovely two days with my niece and grand-niece from the North Island.
They enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed their company.



A Little Piece Of Ireland?

Earlier this year I visited Fox Glacier having to ‘do a bit of business’ but as I’m not heavily into ‘business’ that part didn’t take too long and I found I had a few hours spare. What to do? Obviously there is the glacier but each time I go there I tend to be more depressed by the unseemly haste with which the glacier’s charging back up the valley!! I remember where the terminal face was when I first visited in the late 60s but that position is left behind as you continue past to drive to the car-park hundreds of metres away, with a further 300-400 metres on foot to where the face is today!

But there’s a sign-post indicating “Gillespies Beach” is just a few kilometres away across a bush-covered range behind Lake Matheson (where my ‘business’ was completed) so I decided to investigate and took a right turn at the T intersection on the road from Matheson.

The road’s well-formed if a bit windy but if you don’t aspire to being a rally driver or are driving a BIG RIG it’s a pleasant drive of about 9 or 10 kms from the bridge- or 20 from Fox Glacier township.

As you exit from the bush just a short way before the beach, the camping ground and beginnings of walking tracks
2013-09-19 23.24.52 there is a signpost for the Gillespies Beach Miners Cemetery. Just 2 minutes? Why not!! (…and if you take your time, or include the time taken parking the car it may take you 2 minutes!!)

The ‘bush’ in the immediate area is low scrub, flax and tea-tree but the track heads towards more established natives…
gillespies beach cemetery …and suddenly you are there- no gates, no fences, no fanfare, just a nicely maintained walking track entering a grassy reserve sparsely patterned with a variety of headstones and gravesites, and indeed a few rather suspicious depressions in the ground!
gillespies beach cemetery1It is a very eclectic collection of graves and possibly points to the mixed fortunes of the people who are buried there. There is a range of graves here, from those with impressive headstones to those with a simple wooden cross or even none, from those with properly formed concrete plots to those with no obvious burial plot ‘construction’ at all.
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And who are they and where were they from, these early pioneers? Browsing the headstones in any cemetery never gives us a LOT of information on the person or persons who lie there but in an isolated little cemetery such as this, the community that they established may be pondered on, and the ‘Miners Cemetery’ gives a big clue!
2013-09-19 23.27.24This is the last resting place of James Walsh, a native of County Clare in Ireland. He died in 1889 (aged 60yrs) and his loving wife Ellen erected this headstone to mark his passing. Nearby is this grave-
2013-09-19 23.29.34where are buried father and son, Edward RYAN of Limerick, Ireland who died 22 Aug 1899 (57 yrs), and his son 
John Edward RYAN
who died in 1902 aged 31.

Among others who are able to be identified from the inscriptions on headstones from Ireland are James O’LEARY a native of Cork in Ireland who died in 1892 (interestingly his headstone was erected by Edward Ryan!!), Annie (d 1894) & her husband John QUINLAN (d 1910), and (I’m taking a guess here) Patrick CARROLL. Patrick, who was the son of Michael Carroll drowned in nearby Cooks River 1890 aged just 17 yrs.

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Obviously not all of those buried in this quaint wee sacred place were from Ireland as this headstone attests- Robert Curry McINTOSH was a native of Rothesay in Scotland. Whether Henry MORRISON who died 1911, or Eleanor or Fredrick MEYER  who are also buried here are Irish or not isn’t clear…
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It is a very peaceful part of New Zealand and can reasonably be thought of as being a little bit of ‘The Emerald Isle’ in far off Aotearoa.

It must be said that this cemetery isn’t all there is to see at Gillespies Beach and spending some time walking the tracks there is rewarding both from a scenic point of view and also for a glimpse into the history of gold mining as well as seeing current operations (assuming the old bugger’s still working his claim- either suction dredging in the lagoon or black sand from the beach.) Or you can just walk along the wonderful seashore filling in time before another one of the magnificent sunsets that can be seen on The Coast!

Enjoy your day.

Ships In The Night?

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-

2013-09-20 16.59.45ragwort!! 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 pillarsWP_001004were 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!!]2013-09-19 19.48.20This 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

okaritoand the beach. (If you of a mind to you can contact my mate Ian Cooper and arrange to view kiwi in the wild!)

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.matheson1cmprssdIt 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.Lake-Matheson2From 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,

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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 them2013-09-19 23.27.50and 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!2013-09-20 02.09.00Now 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.2013-09-20 13.51.07 2013-09-20 13.50.56 2013-09-20 13.50.45 2013-09-20 13.50.34 2013-09-20 13.50.12More 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,2013-09-20 15.05.30the 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-

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On the floor of the same cubicle-2013-09-20 13.38.52

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.2013-09-20 14.04.27 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.2013-09-20 13.49.19‘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 path2013-09-20 13.46.44to reach Peter’s Pond, Franz’s answer to Lake Matheson.peter's pondWhat 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.