A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

Crossing the Alps

Thursday 29th October 2015

semi-overcast 15 °C

We had a fairly early start this morning as the Transalpine Train that would take us across the South Island to Greymouth was scheduled to leave Christchurch at 8:15am. We decided to have breakfast on the train and so all we had to do was pack up our things and check out in time for the taxi that we had arranged to pick us up at 7:15am. He was the friendliest taxi driver we have had so far on our trip and he soon got talking to us about his experience of the earthquake. He said that his wife had been particularly affected and that until recently she would cry every time she felt a tremor. He also told us that approximately 10,000 people had left the city since the quake struck. The population is now slowly on the increase and more and more people connected with the rebuild have come to live here. He seemed hopeful that many of these people would settle and stay permanently perhaps giving new life and young people to the city. He dropped us off in plenty of time and again we said a heartfelt goodbye to him and wished him well. The train was in the station and we checked in and as soon as the baggage handlers were ready we stored our large bags in the baggage car. Our seats were in a great position, on the right hand side of the train we had requested (for the best views) and near to the open observation car.


This meant we were quite a way from the buffet car but you can't have everything! We settled in our seats and Nigel went and got us some breakfast as soon as they started serving. For the first half an hour or so after we left the station we were travelling across the flat landscape of the Canterbury Plain, passing agricultural land and the odd milk processing plant. The railway line then starts to climb as it makes its way through the northern foothills of the Southern Alps. At first it was hilly with lots of gorse, and then the hills became higher and we were travelling along gorges and crossing over spectacular bridges with milky blue meltwater streams below.


Once the scenery became more interesting I went up into the open air observation car along with many other passengers and it became a bit of free for all with people jockeying for the best position on the ever changing most scenic side of the train. The hills gradually got higher and we could see snow capped mountains in the distance. As we approached Arthur's Pass the train line ran alongside the Bealey River.


We stopped for a while in the station and at that point nearly 100 people left the train, presumably with the intention of exploring the area. The township of Arthur's Pass is 740 metres above sea level and has some good views of the surrounding mountains.


One of the reasons that the train has to stop for a while is that almost immediately after leaving the station the train enters the Otira Tunnel. This is 8.5 kilometres long and inside the track descends at a gradient of 1 in 33 meaning that the town of Otira is 250 metres lower than Arthur's Pass. In order to control the descent two more locomotives join the one that hauled the train from Christchurch. There is also a fan and door system in order to take away any fumes. For this reason the observation car is closed for the whole time that the train is in the tunnel. Otira station was interesting and slightly weird not only was there an old Fiat parked there but also a figure of a monk with one arm laying beside it!


Some of the buildings in the very small town were also extremely colourful. The mountains slowly gave way to hills, and the gorse that was a feature of the eastern side of the range returned. The valleys became wider and we went past a lake and then the line ran alongside the Grey River until we got into the town of Greymouth.


Once we had collected our bags from the luggage car we went to the Avis desk to get our hire car. This took much longer than we expected and we had been upgraded in that they had given us a a four wheel drive vehicle, not something we would normally want to drive but something of a bonus on some of the roads in New Zealand. Given that we had been advised that there weren't any shops near where we were staying we needed to go to the supermarket and get enough food to last us for the three days that we would be there.

The drive up to Punakaiki took us about 35 minutes and we were pretty pleased when we arrived. We had a lovely little cottage which had partial view of the sea, and as if to remind us of its presence it could be heard as a permanent background roar. Once we had settled in we drove the short distance to see the Pancakes Rocks and blowholes. The view was stunning and we had great fun watching the blowholes spouting.


We both felt that it was the most dramatic coastline we had seen since we had been travelling, probably trumping even the great ocean road in Australia. It had been a great day and we relaxed in the evening and had a home cooked risotto for dinner washed down with a glass of wine.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains trains ocean new_zealand Comments (0)

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