Fact of the day: Glaciers are cold

19-01-2012 until 21-01-2012

So, let’s talk about glaciers. On the South Island the two most famous and accessible glaciers are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. As I already had my car and they are located about 20 km from each other it was easy to visit both before I made up my mind about which one I was actually going to visit. Yes, unfortunately this was an I as Kelsey was not with me for this part of my trip. Both of the glaciers are on the west coast, which is on the other side of the southern alps from basically every other interesting thing in the country. Isn’t that great? And with only a three passes through the Southern Alps that means there is a lot of driving to do to get there.

Lake Hawea

My starting point for going there was Lake Hawea, a beautiful lake about 30 kilometers north of Wanaka. I spent the night there at a really good DOC campsite, and could enjoy a morning swim when I got up.
After this nice swim it then naturally became time to get in the car and drive to the glaciers. This road went past Lake Wanaka, and then into the mountains, following the Haast pass highway.

Southern Alps

Here I have to admit that as this was my first time driving in the mountains there were some moments where I had to pay very good attention. It was also the first time I saw slow down ramps, which only purpose was to allow you to slow down after you lost control of your car. No, I didn’t need to use them. The scenery was amazing though, and I made frequent stops at places like the Blue Pools and a fair number of waterfalls. The experience was improved quite a bit by the great weather during the drive as well. More photos from the drive are in the gallery at the bottom.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

And after a long day of driving I ended up at the Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, the sun doesn’t seem to like the glaciers so the whole visit to the glaciers was done under an overcast sky. Which is probably a good thing once I was walking on top of one. However, we aren’t that far yet. Having just arrived, it was a bit late and I decided to wait until the next day for my visit. So, I found a place to stay in the Fox Glacier township (population: very few) and went out to the glacier the next morning.

Stream at Fox Glacier

The size of the glacier is pretty deceptive, even in the photos it’s hard to see how big it actually is. As you can go only so far by car, it’s about half an hour walk to the glacier itself, where you follow the stream/river that flows from it. A river that at this time was calm and small, but had enough potential for danger that DOC rangers would stake out a path each morning, determining how close people would be allowed to get to the glacier.

So, it was an impressive sight, and there were plenty of walks around to admire the view. Of course, while every couple of years the glacier seems to switch between shrinking and growing it has shrunk a lot since it was first discovered. About a hundred years ago it reached almost to the carpark, and during the glacial periods it tended to reach until deep in the sea.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

However, the Fox glacier wasn’t the only one in town and before deciding which of the two I was going to walk on (only possible with expensive tours) I wanted to see both. So, I left the glacier behind and headed for the Franz Josef Glacier about half an hour north of the township.

In the township I also picked up a couple of French hitchhikers, Noah and Julie, who I joined in a visit to the hot pools in the Franz Josef township (population: just as few). The hot pools were pretty relaxing after a day of walking through the sometimes rainy, sometimes just cloudy environment around Fox glacier.

Trident Falls

After this, they also decided to go to the camping I wanted to go, and we agreed to go visit the Franz Josef glacier together in the morning. Again, this included a pretty long walk to get there, but it was immediately clear this was the more impressive glacier. It seems to be a lot higher, even just the parts you can see, so I decided that this was the one I would climb. That would have to wait until the next day though. Because for this day I’d had enough of the clouds and nearly constant rain. I wanted to see some sun. That took just a 30 minute drive to the coast, where I would then take a nice walk, before driving back into the clouds. It’s really strange how the glaciers were always covered in clouds, but the area around it could still be so nice.

Anyway, the next it was time to do the whole ice walking thing, and this was really impressive. Actually walking on the ice gave a really good idea of how big it was. In the pictures you can’t even see half of the glaciers, as most of it is in behind the highest visible point.

On Franz Josef

Not that we walked there, aside from being physically impossible and dangerous, it’s also too far away. The only way to get there was by helicopter, which was a trip I didn’t do. Walking for a whole day over the ice is much more fun than just 30 minutes.

Once again when trying to write about something as impressive as this, I can’t think of any words that would do it justice. So, instead you’ll have to be satisfied with a whole bunch of pictures showing us walking over and through kilometers of ice.

On this tour I also met two other people; Jeroen, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Laura, from England. After the tour I went with the two of them to the hot pools again, it was part of the tour, and we decided that we would go to the Abel Tasman national park together. But that story will be told in another post.