Next stop was snow and ice! As we headed to Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, we back tracked for a couple of hours. We drove back to Queenstown and then started up the west side of the island. The scenery of the South Island is just breathtaking and never becomes old. After Queenstown, we stopped at Wanaka for lunch and wine tasting.
The Rippon Winery looked across Wanaka Lake with Mount Aspiring National Park in the distance. After Wanaka, we drove along Lake Hawea and then crossed “the neck” and drove along Lake Wanaka again. As we passed Lake Wanaka, the road played peek-a-boo with the Makorora River as we drove through the Haast Pass.
We made a stop for Blue Pools Walk. It was a short hike which was great for a car-tripping day. There is a swing bridge to cross the Makorora River shortly after starting the hike and if you look close, you can see trout swimming. After about 20 minutes, you emerge from birch forest into aquamarine blue glacial waters. There is another swing bridge that allow you a sense of the depth of the river. After back in the car, we continued to follow the Makorora River and then the Haast River. We passed another impressive waterfall, Thunder Creek Falls. By this point, we had skirted the southern and eastern boundary of Mount Aspiring National Park and were nearing our destination for the night, Haast.
We were able to take a hike before heading to the Glaciers since it was a short drive (about two hours). We decided on Monro Bay since there was a slight chance for penguin sightings (we had missed breeding season by a couple of weeks). The hike is through a rainforest full of ferns and trees. You are able to see a wide array of greens and yellows as the sunlight passes through the foliage. After about 40 minutes, the forest opens onto a pebble rock beach. There are groupings of rocks just off-shore in both directions. We were able to walk to a collection of rocks that are perfect nests for penguins when it is breeding season. But the penguins were gone and the rocks were deserted. It was an easy hike and not very long, so the kids were on board with this walk.
Fox and Franz Glaciers are highly accessible for tourist, hikers, and thrill seekers. Fox Glacier begins in the Southern Alps, falls 8,500 feet over its 13 kilometers length (longest glacier in NZ), and ends near the coast in temperate rainforest 820 to 984 feet above sea level. From 2006 to 2009, Fox Glacier was advancing forward approximately a meter every week, but since then, it has been retreating. The neve of this glacier is larger than the size of Christchurch City. Although the terminal can be viewed, it is unsafe for hiking due to the constant movement. Franz Glacier is slightly shorter at 12 km (the second longest glacier in NZ) also originating in the Southern Alps and also ending in a rainforest. Franz Glacier has experienced similar cycles of growth/retreat as Fox.
We stayed at a motorlodge in Franz Joseph Glacier Village for two nights which allowed us one full day for a glacier. We headed into town to book our glacier adventure for the next day. Unfortunately the following day, the weather was not cooperating and our heli-hike was cancelled in the morning. We decided to give the weather another chance and attempted the excursion in the afternoon. But again no luck. If you can’t see the mountaintops through the clouds, a helicopter won’t be able to safely fly.
The difference a day makes for cloud cover!
The weather slightly cleared in the afternoon and we headed to Fox Glacier for a hike to the terminal edge. The weather dramatically changed over the course of an hour from sunny to windy to rain to sunny again. The hike begins just off the carpark and under rainforest canopy cover before entering more exposed areas which resembles a huge dry riverbed. Once at the terminal, one can appreciate the rock of ice as it barrels down the valley. It is not sheer pile of white snow and ice, instead it has the same aqua blue color that we had seen at the Blue Pools. The glacier can trigger considerable flash flooding and there were warning signs everywhere along the walk and the riverbed. Stephen and I hiked the same path 20 years ago and the recession of the leading edge of the glacier was notable. During our first visit, we had a guided hike that started from the terminal and then onto the glacier. Unfortunately the glacier is too unstable to allow hiking at the terminal face. After the hike, the family decided that we wanted to give the glacier excursion one more chance.
We needed to drive to Abel Tasman Park the next day, so we didn’t have time for a heli-hike, but we could squeeze in a helicopter flight. So we scheduled a flight for the next morning. We woke up the next morning hoping the weather would have changed. And it was a gorgeous day! The flight was short, but viewing Franz and Fox Glacier and Mt Cook from the sky was incredible. From the ground, you are only able to view a small portion of these mammoth hunks of ice. From the air you can see the deep crevices, the cliff edges, and the magnitude of the size. The highlight was our snow walk. Our pilot landed us on the solid surface of Franz Glacier and we had a few minutes to walk around. A snowball fight commenced shortly! The South Island has treated our adventure loving family well— bungy jump, jet boats, luging, and a helicopter flight!
Views from our helicopter
On the Glacier!
After our adventure, it was time to head to our last stop on the South Island. We were heading to Abel Tasman National Park- which we missed on our first trip. It was one of our longer drives, but we still had a couple stops along the way. We stopped at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. There is a short looped hike just off the highway. Ideally you want to time your stop with high-tide to experience the blowholes at full show. Somehow, we managed to be only 30 minutes away from high-tide, so we had quite a show to watch. The water surges through narrow crevices and then explodes against the wall of rocks with full sound effects. These rock formations are over 30 million years old. There are several areas to view the surging water but the limestone bridge and Surge Pool are the best. The rocks are appropriately named since the limestone appears to layer into one pancake at a time. We also had a short break at Kilkenny Lookout over the Bully River. It was late when we arrived at our next stop, Abel Tasman Park, but ready for a couple of busy days.