Sunday, December 12, 2010

Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier, NZ: Glacier Experiences

Legendary tales have been told to us of the rainfall and sandflies of the West Coast.  We felt lucky to have made it the village of Franz Joseph with a minimal exposure to either.  It has been said, that if the West Coast goes without rain for two days it is considered a drought.  Well it had been at least two to three weeks of fine weather, and the local rural communities were on the verge of imposing water usage restrictions.

So we arrived in Franz Joseph, a tourist mecca for all things related to glacier viewing -- helicopters, sky-diving, ice climbing.  We got there by noon, set up our tent on a sliver of Astroturf behind a hostel, just before it began to come down.  And it rained all afternoon and most of the night and then even some the next morning.  Drought over.

So when the heavens cleared in the afternoon, we ventured out for the eight kilometer walk from the village to the base of the Franz Joseph Glacier.

A muddy torrent of water from the outwash of the Franz Joseph Glacier.

The trail goes over a rise, opening up to the first grand view of the glacier.

Side canyons and cascades were still flowing from the recent deluge.

One can join a guided tour and a princely sum to get closer to or climb the glacier.  But those of us taking the free option can get within 100 meters, which is quite spectacular enough.

Warnings are posted everywhere -- in the parking lot, in the restrooms, and here at the end of the trail -- warning of the hazards of venturing any further.  But apparently budget constraints allow only a cardboard ranger to be present for enforcement.

Blue ice.

Looking downstream of the glacier to the outwash plain.

The sun peeking out at our last glimpse of the Franz Joseph glacier.

As we sat in the warm and dry surroundings of the hostel, we checked the weather frequently hourly obsessively to see when we would get a break. And on the third day the window opened up and we cycled the 25 kilometers over the divide between Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier.  The road between the villages climbs steeply and drops again three times as it goes transverse to alternating ridges and river valleys.

Clouds cling to the peaks after a morning shower.

The plains below Fox Glacier are visible from the final high point on the road.

We quickly made camp and stowed our gear and rode our bikes to the car park of the access trail to Fox Glacier, 6 kilometers away. Only to find the trail to the base of the glacier was closed due to flooding. Great disappointment was soon replaced by bold anarchy, as we crossed the rope lines with a fellow bike tourist from Spain and a 70-year-old Asian man to bypass the flooding and get to the viewpoint anyways.  No arrests by cardboard rangers were made.

The access trail can be seen partially covered by flood waters.

The root of the Fox Glacier seen from our forbidden viewpoint.

Ice floating in flood waters emanating from the base of the glacier.

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