Which route to take? Simple. The only one. It's that way on the south island. Down the road 106 miles we go. This time, it's pretty easy, flat and straight and it's easy to keep the 62 mph speed limit. The road is in sight of the Tasman Sea for much of the way.
About half way along, the road turns inland and starts winding up and down some hills and trying to keep the speed limit is a fool's errand. The goal is trying to keep the passengers from becoming motion sick!
|One of many....|
|No shortage of outdoor opportunities in NZ.|
Just a quick rest stop at a park along the road
|Headed for the hills|
|And yet another one laner|
We arrive at Franz Josef. The town is small and nearly completely based on glacier tourism - all places to stay, places to eat and things to do. The best part, you can actually see the glacier from the center of the town. During the day, there is a constant buzz of helicopters ferrying people on tours to the top of the glaciers.
|Heading to dinner. That's the glacier up there in the mountains.|
There are two glaciers in the area, Franz Josef and Fox. They are unique in that they end within a couple miles of the sea, in a temperate rain forest. Both have trails up the glacial valleys to the face of the glacier.
The next morning, Dan and I drove the short distance up to the Franz Josef walk-up trail and hiked the mile or so into the glacier face. There are signs, such as a road grader parked on the trail, that the trail is constantly under revision and repair from the glacial stream. The trail ended within 1000 feet or so of the glacier's face. Along they way, there was plenty to take in. Waterfalls from the valley walls, boulder-strewn valley floor and the first plant life establishing itself along the path of the retreating glacier.
|Franz Josef glacier|
|Trail begins in rain forest|
|Looking back toward the Tasman Sea|
|Plant life starting up on valley floor|
|Dan with his cut-out ranger buddy.|
|Yep. A glacier. Call him Franz Josef.|
That afternoon, we took a guided tour of the Fox glacier, the next one to the south. It had an even more roughly hewn trail and about 1/4 mile from it's end, the guide took off the main trail and led us nearly up to the glacier's face. We got within a 100 yards.
|Walking up the trail|
|Crossing some water|
|Guide making trail improvments.|
|Glacial stream exit from under glacier|
|Glacial faces. Us and the glacier's.|
|Lots of ice!|
|The glacier did it!|
After returning from the glacier, we stopped in at the West Coast Wildlife Center, which is one part tourist trap, and one part Kiwi breeding program. We got to see a couple juvenile Rowi Kiwis tramping about a darkened enclosure. After dinner, we hit the glacial hot pools across from our hotel. Although there are places in New Zealand where there are hot pools geothermally heated, these were glacier water heated in the conventional fashion. They came in three temperatures: hot, hotter and hottest. It was great soaking in the heat under the rainforest canopy.
One of the advantages of being in a relatively unpopulated area is the night sky is DARK. Merely walking across the street into an open lot, the night sky lit up. No problem at all finding the Milky Way and it was cool seeing the Southern Cross. It helped a great deal having Google Night Sky on the phone to figure out what we were looking at!
The next day we headed toward Queenstown, about as far south as we would get on this trip. Typically, Google maps only gave us one route. That's because there is only one route! In fact, this particular route wasn't even a paved road until the 1980s.
|East coast of south island|
|Pull off on long one lane bridge|
|Haast River Valley|
|Wanaka lunch spot|
|It was weird to be looking down on a plane approaching Queenstown airport when you could see neither town nor airport|
|Main road into Queenstown|
|Typical NZ approach to dealing with getting roads over hills and mountains|