A Travellerspoint blog

A Wet Day in Franz Josef

Tuesday 3rd November 2015

rain 15 °C

Having done the walks we wanted to yesterday we decided to have a really relaxing time today. It was a really wet and miserable day anyway and so dark and gloomy that I didn't wake up until gone 9am. We didn't rush to get up, we could just tell it was still raining by the noise of the rain on the roof. We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and showered and had a very late breakfast. I have still been really struggling to get up to date with the blog so I spent most of what was left of the morning doing that. We had also been trying to find an excursion for when we are in Queenstown that doesn't involve an adrenalin rush drive along precarious roads (search on the Internet for Skippers Canyon if you want to know what we didn't want to do). In the end we decided to book a private tailor made tour which would be a lot more expensive but would give us control on where we went. A quick phone call to our chosen company got a half day scenic tour booked.

Back to today, we had decided to go to the Glacier Pools that were little more than over the road from where we were staying. For less than £50 we could share a small private pool for 45 minutes and then free access to the public pools. It seemed like the ideal thing to do in a wet and miserable Franz Josef. The pool was perhaps a little smaller than we expected, it was really just a sunken jacuzzi. What was really nice is that we had our own private little cabin nicely fitted out with a changing area, loo and shower. The tub was lovely and warm and it was great sitting there surrounded by New Zealand rain forest. There was no doubting when our 45 minutes was up as the water just started to drain away, the hot tub equivalent of being at a teenage party and the parents turning the light on!

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Once our time was up we went to the public pools. These were much larger and there were three of them ranging in temperature from 36 to 40 degrees. It was very relaxing and we ended up staying in there for at least another hour and a half. By then we were pretty wrinkly. We had been quite lucky because the rain had stopped shortly after we had arrived there and stayed that way until evening.

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It was gone 4pm by the time we got back so we relaxed some more, did another load of washing and then got an Indian take away from the restaurant next door. We have an early start in the morning so needed to go to bed fairly early, and as we were going to have to walk to the bus stop about half a mile away, I did some packing before I went to bed.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand franz_josef Comments (0)

Exploring the Franz Josef Glacier

Monday 2nd November 2015

rain 12 °C

We had made some enquiries about doing a guided walk along the glacial valley but the guy Mike hadn't got got back to us so we weren't that hopeful. We got up quite early and as soon as it was reasonable to do so, rang him up to check whether he was able to accommodate us. He was a bit vague about whether he had got my confirmation email and didn't seem to have any free slots. He also runs the town glacier shuttle service which takes people from town centre hotels to the car park nearest to the glacier. We agreed that it might be as well for us to do the walk unguided and arranged for Mike to pick us up at our hotel at 12:45, which he duly did and so we arrived at our starting point just after 1pm. Mike explained to us briefly what short walks were possible and the best order in which to do them.

The main walk would take us near to the snout of the glacier. The footpath started at the end of the car park and took us a short distance through typical New Zealand forest. It then opened out into the wider river valley, much of it filled with moraine with several small glacial meltwater streams.

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We crossed the nearest one on small stepping stones and then the clearly marked footpath took us past the appropriately named Trident Falls and along the valley floor.

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The snout of the glacier was visible for part of the walk, and the colours of lichen and moss on the rocks gave quite a bit of colour to what otherwise was quite a grey landscape. After about two kilometres we reached the old terminal face of the glacier. It was at this point that the walk became quite steep and we had to be a bit careful as the gravel was a bit unstable. After a few ups and downs we reached the roped barrier beyond which it isn't safe to walk.

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The Franz Josef Glacier is quite unusual in that the snout is only about 300 metres above sea level. Generally it is retreating at the moment, probably due to a mixture of lower than average snowfall and global warming. This means that huge lumps of ice are prone to break off making it dangerous to venture beyond the barrier. The weather had closed in a bit and so we had a limited view of the glacier but it was still very spectacular. We were very lucky because whilst we were sitting admiring the view and munching our way through some fruit, a kea was jumping around amongst the walkers.

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Kea are the only truly alpine parrot in the world and they are renowned for being highly inquisitive, which this one certainly was. We sat waiting and hoping that the weather would clear a little so that we would have a better view of the top of the glacier but this wasn't to be, we had already had the best of the day and if anything the weather was getting worse. After about half an hour we decided to make the walk back, and even though it was by now raining the misty views back down the valley were lovely.

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Although we could have had a pick up at 3pm we had decided that we wanted to spend more time walking, so once we got back past the trident waterfalls and on to the forest track we made a right hand turn and made the very steep but fortunately short walk up to Sentinel Rock.

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On a clear day we would have had great views of the glacier but in the drizzle we could only just make it out, however the view was very impressive nevertheless. Once we had finished looking at the view we walked back down and continued on the forest walk as far as the car park. There was a third short walk to a place called Peter's Pool which could be done as a short return walk or as a longer circular one.

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Once we got as far as the pool we decided to carry on a bit further but after about half a kilometre the path started to rise steeply. We continued for a short way but there seemed to be no let up. Given that we were getting tired and 5pm, when we were being picked up by the shuttle bus, was not that far away we decided to return the way we had come. We got back to the bus stop with about 10 minutes or so to spare. We stood and waited in the drizzle feeling a little sorry for the people who were only just embarking on the glacier walk. Mike picked us up on schedule and dropped us back at our hotel. We popped over the road in order to book ourselves a session at the Glacier Pools for tomorrow. We had enough to time to relax for an hour or so before going out to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We had a lovely but very filling three course set menu. Once we got back to our room we just wanted to relax and rest our slightly weary legs that were reflecting the fact that we had walked fairly tiring eight kilometres.

Posted by Gill's Travels 19:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains rivers glacier new_zealand franz_josef Comments (0)

Letting Someone Else Take the Strain

Sunday 1st November 2015

semi-overcast 14 °C

We were awake pretty early this morning in order to watch the Rugby World Cup final. Given that we are now in New Zealand, and England have long since left the tournament, I was certainly hoping for an All Blacks win (sorry Australia). I thought that they were the better side in the first half, although perhaps a little slow to really get going. Once they did the match made great viewing. Australia seemed to rally a little in the second half but then the Kiwis ended in spectacular fashion and we and more than four million other people in New Zealand were very happy. After the match I dozed off for a while, but at 8 o'clock we decided that we really needed to get up and going if we were to check out of our accommodation by 10am. Once everything was loaded into the car we went and settled our bill and then we were soon driving the short distance south towards Greymouth.

Our bus wasn't leaving until after 1pm so we did have a bit if free time that morning. We did talk about stopping off somewhere but in the end went straight to the train station where we had to return the hire car and catch the bus. Once we were on board we settled back to enjoy the trip. The road hugged the coast for much of the journey and the driver pointed out places of interest and gave us some history on the way.

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We stopped for a break at Hokitika and the driver pulled up outside the National Kiwi Centre, a slightly strange and rather amateurish place that had some captive Kiwi birds in a darkened enclosure (presumably because they are nocturnal and therefore to reduce their stress and maximise the chances of seeing them). We had a quick look round and had just enough time to grab a cold drink before we were on our way again. The road continued near the coast before turning a short distance inland. We passed over a couple of rivers and we could see people with small traps trying to make the most of the last few days of the whitebait season. We then entered into the small town of Ross, which was established in the 1860's as part of the West Coast Gold Rush. At its height the town had about 2,500 residents but now there are less than 300 people living there. Our driver stopped and delivered newspapers to the shop here as well as in several other small towns and villages en-route, a good example of multi-tasking!

We also had a brief stop outside The Bushman's Centre in Pukekura (not a very enticing place name) to let one passenger off. This is a museum and cafe (with very mixed reviews) that has an extremely large model of a sandfly on the front gable end. I was quite relieved that this wasn't one of our scheduled comfort breaks.

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The weather then became very wet and miserable and the hills in the distance were shrouded in mist. We continued inland, past another couple of braided rivers before arriving at Franz Josef.

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Our driver very kindly dropped us off outside our accommodation which made things easy for us. We quickly checked in and settled into our very nice studio room. We had some time to relax and get our bearings before going up the street to a good local restaurant for a very filling dinner.

Posted by Gill's Travels 18:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rivers new_zealand gold Comments (0)

You Just Can't Do Everything!

Saturday 31st October 2015

semi-overcast 16 °C

Our intention was to do much the same as we had done yesterday, but having ascertained exactly when high tide was, we aimed to get to the blowholes for around 2:30pm so that we could see them at their most active. On that basis there was no need for us to rush out, but equally we wanted to have some of the morning to explore. We had breakfast and did a few things in the cottage before driving the short distance to what is known as the Truman Track. There is a small parking area near the start of the track and next to this there is a dark peaty looking pool. We crossed the road and walked for a while through some typical New Zealand rain forest.

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A number of the plants were labelled which gave an added interest to the walk. After about a kilometre the path opened out and after a short distance we were at the sea. There were lovely views in both directions with some steps that went down onto the beach.

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From there we could get an even better view of the waves crashing over the rocks. The tide was starting to come in and so we didn't really have time to walk on the sand, but from where the steps were we could see a small waterfall flowing onto the beach.

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We then retraced our steps and walked back up the track to our car. Nigel then drove a short distance in the direction of Punakaiki to the car park at the start of the Pororari River track. We walked about a third of the track to a point where we had a lovely view of the river. The scenery was beautiful with a sheer cliff edge with a more gently sloping bank covered in vegetation and fallen rocks.

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There were a number of places where trees were bent over the path, or rocks partly obstructing the track causing us to duck. We did think about going further but were aware of the time and the fact that we wanted to be catch the high tide. Whilst we were standing there enjoying the view, two kayakers came past and seeing how gentle and shallow the river was I was a little envious and wished that we had chosen to do the same.

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On the way back to the car we met a number of other walkers who looked like they were intending to do the full three hour loop. It was getting towards 2:20pm and high tide and so instead we went to have another (our third) look at the blowholes. The tide was at its highest and some of the waves were crashing onto the rocks in a quite spectacular fashion.

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Although there was water spouting out of the blowholes we agreed that it wasn't quite as spectacular as the day before. We were feeling quite hungry by this stage so we stopped at one of the cafe's on the main road near the blowholes for a bite to eat before venturing back a short distance to look at a cave that was reputed to have some glow worms. We had brought a torch as suggested, but once inside it looked like a bit a scramble through a fairly narrow passage to get into the cave proper. Although we could see torchlight shining from under the rocks, so we knew someone else had been able to get through, we decided not to venture any further.

Instead we went back past our accommodation and made use of our 4WD vehicle and drove about a kilometre or so up a gravel track alongside the Punakaiki River. We parked up and then crossed over a swing (small suspension) bridge.

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Again we walked a short distance before turning back as by this stage Nigel's hip was playing up and I was also getting pretty tired. In some ways I regretted that we hadn't continued on the Pororari River track we were on in the morning as both footpaths linked up, and we had probably walked the same distance. However had we done this we wouldn't have had time to go along the Truman Track. This is all part of the compromising you do when you are somewhere for a limited time. Once we had walked back to the car, we drove the short distance back to the cottage and after relaxing for a while we had another home cooked meal and then a fairly early night in readiness for an early start.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes sea rivers new_zealand punakaiki Comments (0)

Paparoa National Park

Friday 30th October 2015

sunny 16 °C

Today was our first day full day in Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park and our intention was to stay nearby and explore some of the countryside on our doorstep. We drove northwards a short distance up the coast initially stopping at the Irimahuwhero Lookout. There were great views of the coast in either direction. Looking back southwards also gave a good indication of the local geology, particularly the unusual rock strata. We got chatting to a bus driving who was taking passengers from Nelson down to Franz Josef and he kindly offered to take a our photograph.

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We carried on driving in the same direction until we arrived at at the great named Woodpecker Bay. We parked up here and had a look at the beach. Like some of the bays we had seen in the North island this one was also littered with lumber.

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The ocean seemed quite wild and even if it was warm enough it wouldn't have invited me to go in for a swim. From there we wallked over the road and crossed the old and somewhat dilapidated Fox River Bridge. This had signs saying that it was unsafe and that you progressed at your own risk. It looked safe enough to us and as there were only two of us walking on it we were sure we would be fine. Once we got to the other side we walked through a cave that came out a short distance down the river bank.

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I didn't much like it inside even though it was more like a short tunnel, and it was very wet and drippy. We made our way back across the bridge and started walking down the Fox River Track. It was quite wet and muddy in places and a few short up and down stretches but was still pretty easy walking. As we wanted to do other things later in the day we only walked for about half an hour along the track. We stopped once the path got near to the river and scrambled through a bit of undergrowth to get on the the stony river beach.

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It was lovely and peaceful and I loved the tropical vegetation including many tree ferns on the opposite bank. We stayed there for a while before retracing our steps back along the footpath to the car.

We wanted to go and have another look at the blowholes and other features at the Pancake Rocks. The main blowhole was throwing out a lot of water, sometimes it was more of a mist and other times more like a fountain with clearly discernible droplets of water. Because it was quite a sunny day most spurts ended up with a lovely rainbow across the hole. We found it fascinating and stood watching it for ages. It was quite wet standing there and a bit of a challenge taking photographs whilst trying to keep our cameras reasonably dry.

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All the other features were pretty dramatic as well. There was a channel that had huge waves rushing in and this fed into a small steamy blowhole called the chimney. On the other side of the access bridge there was an archway under which huge waves would race into an enclosed bay and crash into the cliff wall opposite. This pool fed into a larger blowhole which didn't spout much more than a slight mist but it did make a sudden booming noise every time water was pushed through. Further round the cliffs the waves were rolling in a crashing on the open cliffs. It was an amazing place and a real reminder of the power of the ocean. Some of the pathways looked pretty precarious and almost certainly will eventually collapse. Once we had finished looking at the spectacle and taking photographs we made our way back to our temporary home from where we had a very late lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon inside and we finished the evening with a meal cooked by Nigel and then we watched a bit of television.

Posted by Gill's Travels 18:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches rivers rain_forest new_zealand paparoa Comments (0)

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