Glaciers, waterfalls, and more...

Hokitika Travel Blog

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The Kiwis have a sense of humor with their road signs.

This morning we left Queenstown at a relatively early hour (the sun had yet to rise) and began our journey toward the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.  New Zealand is a country of only four million people in the same land area as the British Isles or Japan.  Of the 4 million, only 25% live on the South Island where we currently are visiting.  And almost 40% of those people live in the Christchurch metropolitan area.  Thus, to say that the land through which we passed is rural is a bit of an understatement.  Though the Kiwi map may be dotted with a decent number of towns, these places are often no more than a collection of houses, a “dairy” (i.e., a convenient store that usually sells petrol, too), a café (that seemingly always displays the most enticing pastries), perhaps a government building, and, in many instances, some reason for tourists to stop – whale watching, gold panning, sheep shearing… you name it.

Catching Sheldon in the act.
 

Speaking of those sort-of-white critters, sheep are far more prevalent than people.  Field after field of sheep can be seen in any direction on most drives through the countryside.  Joining the rams and ewes are a collection of goats, cows, and deer.  Agriculture is big business around here.

The roads, while in good condition, are relatively narrow, and in nearly every instance, bridges shrink to one lane no matter the size of the chasm over which they loom.  Guardrails do not exist except (if you’re lucky) in the most precarious of situations.  What one might loosely term as “interstate” is really a two-lane country road.  Traffic is so light that passing lanes are simply unnecessary.  Oh, and to throw one more wild card in the mix, the Kiwis, too, drive on the left side of the road. 

Just like the previous two mornings, we wound our way along hillsides and around river bends.

An amazing view of the Fox Glacier.
  For breakfast, we stopped in Wanaka, a decent sized village that was the gateway to the Haast Pass, our main driving route for the first part of the day.  Sheldon and I tried the French toast with cinnamon, syrup, bananas, and bacon (the Canadian version), and we promptly decided that the dish was second only to Tommy’s French toast special back at Junior’s!

For lack of a more precise geologic description, the Haast Pass is the continental divide of the South Island.  Just as one would find some spectacular scenery along the divide in North America, the same such wonders are prevalent here… particularly waterfalls!  Our photographs, while stunning, really cannot capture the true beauty of the Pass.

Fantail Falls, the Haast Pass.
  Three places are of particular note.  Our first stop along the highway (I would say “scenic highway,” but in New Zealand that is the epitome of redundancy for all thoroughfares hold the promise of stunning views) was the Fantail Falls.  The plummet, while lovely, was overshadowed by the strikingly clear water at its base.  The stream’s water possessed both an amazing transparency, which allowed us to see directly to the creek bottom and the scores of worn rocks and pebbles, and a terrific blue tint that Miller appropriately dubbed “liquid sapphire.” 

A short skip down the road led to the Gates of Haast.  A single lane bridge rests above the Gates, which start at a high point and then tumble down a gorge, turbulently churning around and careening around boulders the size of small homes.

This is what happens to a person who stands under falling rock.
  Not even the most skilled and daring whitewater kayaker in the world would dare tackle the raging torrent, but for sheer and absolutely serene beauty, the Gates are hard to top.

Finally, we stooped at the Thunder Creek Falls, a 92-foot sheer vertical drop of water just steps from the main road.  Once again, words fail to describe the sublime splendor of places such as this.  The whole drive through the Haast Past featured a smorgasbord of waterfalls and towering trees, accented by snow-capped peaks.  Remember that we are visiting New Zealand at the onset of winter.  While fall colors bravely cling to a tree here and there, for the most part, the coldest of seasons is already present.

A one-lane bridge. They are all over the NZ countryside.
  On average, our morning lows hover between 28 and 32.  We have an outside air thermometer in the car, and the lowest temperature I have seen thus far has been -4 Celsius, or 25 Fahrenheit.  And that was well after the sun rose.  The afternoon highs have been in the mid 40s to upper 50s.  Those temperatures should moderate somewhat once we hit the North Island.  And, yes, we have seen frost and snow up close and personal. 

We have also seen ice… and plenty of it.  After the drive through the Haast Pass, we skirted up the road to twin glaciers, the Fox and Franz Josef.  Both glaciers are currently retreating, but as recently as five years ago, the latter of the two underwent an aggressive advancement.

Cold.
  We hiked up to both of them.  To get there we waded through extensive temperature rainforests, which seemed out of place in the midst of the blue ice and cool winds. 

The enormity of a glacier is a bit difficult to capture.  When you approach the massive flow of ice from afar, you see tiny specks of color in front of the glacier.  Those are people.  Then you realize just how mammoth these marvels of nature are.  The winds sweep off that ice and create a climate cooler than the valley the glacier carved.  Despite the temperature, though, the views are worth it.  In addition to the glacier itself, numerous waterfalls spew from the green mountains that encircle the ice and provide it’s a canal to move.  The water is either crystal clear like that from the Haast River or a more milky green-blue color, indicative of glacial ice melt water.

Another view of the Fox.
 

After spending a few hours in the national park with the twin glaciers, we headed to the seaside town of Hokitika to bed down for the evening.

-Chris

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The Kiwis have a sense of humor wi…
The Kiwis have a sense of humor w…
Catching Sheldon in the act.
Catching Sheldon in the act.
An amazing view of the Fox Glacier.
An amazing view of the Fox Glacier.
Fantail Falls, the Haast Pass.
Fantail Falls, the Haast Pass.
This is what happens to a person w…
This is what happens to a person …
A one-lane bridge.  They are all o…
A one-lane bridge. They are all …
Cold.
Cold.
Another view of the Fox.
Another view of the Fox.
The three amigos directly in front…
The three amigos directly in fron…
A view from the Haast Pass Highway.
A view from the Haast Pass Highway.
The three amigos in front of the F…
The three amigos in front of the …
A bridge spanning the amazing chas…
A bridge spanning the amazing cha…
Hokitika
photo by: Vanessa_Mun_Yee