Today we travelled from Westport to Franz Josef. The scenery was once again…you guessed it, spectacular. The first half of the trip was along the coast, the second half was further inland, but all was crowded by stunning mountains on our east side. The west coast seems to be the last place with large amounts of native bush. I don’t think we saw a single logging truck today.
We stopped to walk out to the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. The sea was calm (the day was alternately sunny and warm, and overcast and chilly) and there wasn’t much wind so the blowholes weren’t blowing, but still the rocks are amazing to see and the coastline is beautiful. We bought some souvenirs (a t-shirt, beanie, tea towel and book on native birds) from the Dept. of Conservation shop before moving on. We could have also bought possum skins here! The Australian brushtail possum was introduced to New Zealand and is a pest over here. It’s the most destructive of the introduced species and an estimated 70 million of them are eating their way through what’s left of the native NZ bush. There’s a rather controversial but widespread (DOC) 1080 baiting program happening. One town we went through today had signs in windows and yards making it clear that many of the residents are against 1080 because it kills all animals, not just possums.
On from there to Hokitita where we had lunch. Hoki is the home of NZ jade (greenstone) and has several jade shops. I found a jade charm for my bracelet and also a silver kiwi charm. I’d like to get a couple of other small jade trinkets, but I’ll keep a lookout elsewhere along the journey.
After the break the road headed inland with views of snow-topped Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, though the cloud kept teasing, mostly hiding the mountaintops. Before long we arrived at Franz Josef. We booked into our accommodation and found that our self-contained cottage had been upgraded to a newer one – very nice indeed. It was only mid-afternoon so we drove out to Franz Josef Glacier and walked out along the Waiho riverbed to the glacier terminal. It’s pretty weird to be walking through the lush green bush and knowing that there’s a river of ice at the other end. The glacier is an amazing sight – yes, it’s spectacular! Mt Cook and Mt Tasman were still mostly covered by cloud, just peeping out every now and then with sun on the top half of the glacier. The river is the same colour as the rocks, sands and silts surrounding it, a result of coming from the glacier and being full of ground-up particles of those rocks, sands and silt. In its own way it’s quite beautiful.
There were lots of groups coming down off the glacier with guides – the only way you can walk on the glacier itself. I don’t think we’ll do that, but we’ll see what the weather’s like tomorrow and we may do a Helihike – a helicopter flight that lands on the glacier and includes a 2 hour hike on the ice before the flight back. We’re not sure about it, though, and there’s supposed to be rain tomorrow. We’ll go out to Fox glacier in the morning and maybe walk around Lake Matheson, then we’ll have a look around Franz Josef Village and decide whether to do the Helihike if we can get space on one.