New Zealand: Franz Josep and Fox Glaciers

Drive to Franz Josep

We woke up early and were on the road at eight o clock on the dot. It was just getting bright but the rain had started shortly after we left Greymouth and it was hard to see what the countryside we were passing through was like.

Luckily however the rain eased off after an hour or so and were able to enjoy the scenery once more. The first part of the road sticks to the coast and we made very good time through the relativly flat countryside despite the rain and without spoiling our admiration of the the green fields on both sides. Closer to Franz Josep the road was started to weave through the foothills and was bordered on each side by beautiful forests.

Railway bridge 1 Railway bridge 2

Many of the bridges that we crossed during that morning were one lane only. Although it wasn't the first time we'd encountered these bridges - they seem to be endemic in the South Island - it was however the first time that we found ourselves driving across a one lane bridge which had train tracks down the middle.

We passed two of these bridges, one of which had a "Yield" sign with the worrying footnote "This does not apply to trains". Needless to say we didn't tarry long on the bridge!

Franz Josep Glacier

We arrived in Franz Josep with plenty of time to stop and do some sightseeing. A short walk from the car pack along a tree lined path brought us to a public viewing area. There are lots of warning signs about the dangers of advancing beyond this point (something we had no intention of doing). We stood admiring for a few minutes and took a few photos while remarking on the impossibility of capturing the scale of the glacier on camera.

First sight of the glacier View of the glacier from the viewing area Path back from the viewing area

On our way back to the camper, we passed a couple in bright orange jackets. It was Jordi and Laia! The catalan couple we had met at Kaikoura Whalewatching, we spent a couple of minutes exchanging news and they told us that they'd just come back from a helicopter tour. They'd really enjoyed it and were happy to say that they hadn't suffer from motion sickness! They were heading to Christchurch that afternoon and the next day would fly to French Polynesia to finish their honeymoon. We weren't going see them again unless by some chance we met on the plane back to Barcelona (which didn't happen).

Cheered by this unexpected encounter we headed off for the Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier Guides

Maui camper vans

We arrived at Fox Glacier guides at noon, well in advance of the half one departure time. We were surprised to find that the car park already boasted two Maui campers (the older model that ours replaced) so took a photo of the three together before heading in for our tickets.

We got the tickets and inquired about boots for Joel. As is normal the first reaction was "48 european, that _is_ big" but they soon produced a pair that were actually too big!

Reassured by this we headed across the road for some breakfast/lunch. After all it is important to be well fed before you head up on the ice for four hours! We got two lovely pizzas and Joel enjoyed another glass of wine (his third of the trip), safe in the knowledge that he wouldn't be driving for another five hours.

There were 18 people in the group but our two guides explained that after we got our equipment that we'll split into two different groups. They gave us a short safety briefing and explained that boots, socks, crampons and raincoats were all available. We took adavantage of the boots and crampons but were satisfied that our raincoats were better than those on offer.

We then tumbled out the door and onto the antique buses that Fox Guiding uses to bring guests to the glacier itself.

Fox Glacier

The bus journey was only about 15 minutes and our guide took advantage of the time to explain a little about what makes the glaciers so unique. He also explained that although the glaciers had retreated a large distance in the last few millenium on the other hand during the last hundred years they have actually advanced towards the sea.

Valley carved by the Fox Glacier

Once at the car park we split into our two groups and our guide (Paul) gave us another more extensive safety briefing before leading us through the sub-temprate rainforest along one side of the valley. He explained that it was foolhardy to approach the face of the glacier and that we would enter the glacier about half an hours walk from the face itself.

The walk to the glacier was quite nice and provided some fantastic views out over the valley. It was also surprising hot and we all soon shed our jackets and fleeces in favor of t-shirts!

Once on the edge of the glacier Paul showed us how to put on our crampons and how to walk correctly. It was very east to adjust and you soon had the impression that the crampons were not doing anything - an impression that you could easily disprove by using your toe to test the slipperness of the ice.

Looking up the glacier Climbing down a crevice Looking down the glacier

Trying to show the scale Mountain climber!

Once on the edge of the glacier Paul showed us how to put on our crampons and how to walk correctly. It was very east to adjust and you soon had the impression that the crampons were not doing anything - an impression that you could easily disprove by using your toe to test the slipperness of the ice.

It was quite a strange experience walking around on top of the glacier, the wind and ice have formed some amazing shapes and the colours are surprising bright. In fact our time slipped by without us realising it and it was soon time to head back down to the bus.

Camping for the night

Once back at the camper van we headed off towards Haast. Our intention was to find somewhere to free camp for the night somewhere along the route that we'd take the following day. After our glacier experience we were really very energetic and the miles just flew past. Unfortunatly it appeared that the places we'd thought of as likely candidates also flew past and we soon found ourselves a lot close to Haast than we'd intended to get.

Luckily however we spotted a likely turn off and pulled in to investigate, it turned out to be a DOC campsite with one other camper van. We parked up beside them and bedded down for the night.

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