NZ Day 8: The Galciers

Glaciers and rainforests don’t often mix. Here on the west coast of New Zealand two glaciers make their way from the Southern Alps down into a temperate rainforest filled with ferns and trees. The day started out inauspiciously. The rain was pounding down and visibility was poor. We watched as a number of helicopter tours were canceled due to bad weather. Still, we decided to risk it and our luck held. The hike to Fox Glacier, or as close as they’ll let you get, is crossed by several creeks. Due to rain and unexpected ice melt, the area can flood suddenly and we were on a constant lookout for rock slides. The recent rain had raised the water level in the glacial river to be quite high. The Department of Conservation, NZ’s version of the National Park Service, has signs everywhere warning travelers about the dangers of the glaciers, hiking alone, and the remoteness of many of the tracks. The gravel path is largely made of of whatever the glacier left behind. The track has a primordial feel to it. The rocky floor gave way to lush green vegetation and waterfalls before disappearing into the low cloud cover. We took advantage of a brief patch of sunshine to hit a scenic overlook that should have given us great views of most of the peaks in the Southern Alps. Alas, while the sunshine was welcome, the mountains remained hidden behind the dense clouds. In the afternoon, we drove over to Franz Josef to see that glacier. The path to this glacier took us through a river bed again carved out by the retreating glacier. We were able to walk closer to the glacier face this time. We passed a couple of huge ice mounds slowly melting into great pools below. The low cloud cover gave this glacier a much more ominous feel. A cold breeze was being funneled off the glacier into the viewing area that had some hikers reaching for their coats. There were a few orphaned pieces of ice in the rock scree up to the lookout. They were dripping water constantly, and small bits of rock and gravel were falling off at regular intervals. It was a good reminder to stay to the marked paths and away from unstable areas. We’ll head out tomorrow towards Greymouth. Our last two days on the South Island will take us through the Arthur Pass, and then we jet off to the North Island. More pictures here.

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