Thursday, June 4, 2015

To Fox Glacier + Lake Matheson

Bright as a new penny, this day, in an area known for its rainfall. Before we leave Franz Josef and our upscale rainforest campground, a quick shot of the resto/bar on site...whose slogan tells it all.
It's Thursday and we're heading south just 30 K to Fox Glacier, Franz Josef's twin. Not that miles mean much here. It's a twisty hairpin-edges-go-nowhere drive and Art manages expertly, the caravan in tow behind us.

I forget occasionally, my nose buried in maps, that you're not right here with us, friends. Here's the route from Hokitika to Franz Josef and Fox. Pull out on the map to see how little ground we've covered in days and days (just as we like it) and where in NZ we're situated.

Sun lights up the turquoise glacial meltwater.

It's a brilliant ride, hugged by rainforest.

Fox Glacier is even tinier than Franz Josef, but more nicely situated somehow, with a companionable small-town feel.

We find a perfect campground nestled at the base of the mountains in full sun. The mountain air has warmed and everyone we meet tells us it's an unlikely day for winter here.

PB+J while we review the helicopter tour brochure. Today's the day, we decide, clear and bright, perfect for flightseeing.

The tour we've chosen, in red, lasts 40 minutes, setting down for 15 minutes so passengers can walk on the stable neve (add two accents and pronounce neh-VAY) of Fox Glacier. The neve is the head of the glacier, where snow is compressed into ice. Fox's neve is 45 meters (147 feet) deep.

See the  Eiffel Tower for scale? I wonder if it's even possible for humans to grasp the scope of this grandeur.

Even though it's brilliantly clear and perfectly calm on the ground, when Art goes to sign us up he learns that it's windy in the mountains and the copter pilots aren't going up today.

But here's one thing I love about NZ: there's always something else to do or see. No flightseeing today, but there is Lake Matheson, which provides one of NZ's most famous views, mirroring Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in a perfect as-above-so-below.

It's just a few Ks from our campground, so let's go.

Just as promised

Mt Tasman to the left, Aoraki/Mt Cook at right. Aoraki measures 12,218 feet. Compare to Mt Ranier, highest mountain in Washington State, at 14,411.

While the mountain was known to Māori centuries before, the first European known to see Aoraki / Mount Cook was Abel Tasman,[4] on 13 December 1642 during his first Pacific voyage. The English name of Mount Cook was given to the mountain in 1851 by Captain John Lort Stokes to honour Captain James Cook who first surveyed and circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand in 1770. Captain Cook did not sight the mountain during his exploration. (More at the link on the agreement to include the Maori name.)
Our path wends its way around Lake Matheson, with a boardwalk over a marshy end, where spears of NZ flax (harakeke) border our walk.

Could you say no to this sign (and the 67 stairs)?

Lake Matheson was formed about 14,000 years ago when the Fox Glacier retreated and left a depression that later filled with water.

Ducklings pattern the perfectly still lake.

What a luxury, strolling in nature with flora explained.

The path back toward the carpark and cafe borders a farm. Remember, Aoraki at right, taller than Mt Tasman (11,473 feet) but farther away.

In the midst of all its wild nature, NZ is utterly civilized, with lovely cafes adjoining simple walks like the one we took today.

Full sun, a view to love...and a flat white.

There are an astounding 140 glaciers here in Westland/Tai Poutini National Park. You can see Fox Glacier town at about 10 o'clock below, the white on this map indicating glaciers.

Back at camp, it's cocktail hour. Each day in this country is a gift.

We walked the quarter mile into town to see how long it will take us tomorrow to reach heli HQ, where we're scheduled for the tour, weather permitting, at 10 am.

Isn't this fire station crisp?

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