Down Under - Winter/Spring 2009 travel blog

Franz Josef Glacier

Matheson Lake

fern

glacier hikers

pilgrimage

roots breaking stone

glacial remains


The Tasman Sea side of the South Island is definitely the wet side. Moisture laden winds that have traveled from Antarctica run into the Southern Alps shortly after they make land fall and drop that moisture as they start to rise. The vegetation here is typical of a rain forest, very green and lush. It rained a lot last night and the lesson we learned from our visit to Milford Sound is that if the clouds have a chance to dump some of their moisture content, they lighten up for a while. So we proceeded with the plans we had made at home reading the guide book, when we weren’t worrying about the weather at all. There were patches of blue sky, but much bigger patches of gray. Clouds oozed along the sides of the mountains and obscured the tops altogether.

The first agenda item was a walk around Lake Matheson. The book said that when the weather was calm, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman could be viewed reflected in its waters. On a really calm day you might not be sure the image was the mountains top up or top down. As we hiked the well developed path, we were joined by bus loads of tourists, but they only had time to walk to the first view point. It felt great to stride through the dense ferny forest. It had a Jurassic Park look; any minute a dinosaur could come crashing through the brush. As the photos indicate, we could see the mountains, but the view was not perfect. But it felt good to make the ninety minute hike and see all we could.

The same weather dilemma faced us at Franz Josef Glacier. This too involved a long walk since the glacier has melted back so far from the road. The rocks beneath our feet showed the scratches and stress they had been under as the ice sheet ground them down the mountainside. The clouds rolled in and out, playing hide and seek with the top of the glacier. A path had been mapped out across the stone field and the hikers trying to get closer to the ice face looked like pilgrims. We could see tiny ant like creatures working up the ice. We had considered taking the glacier hike tour, but it seemed a bit too strenuous for geezers like us. Instead we sat on the boulders, listening to the melting water rushing by and enjoyed the ever changing view provided by the clouds.

After all that hiking it felt good to be in the camper and resume the hairpin curve, switch back, one lane bridge driving. As we went north the land smoothed out a bit, but was devoid of signs of human activity. The low population of New Zealand leaves so much acreage unoccupied. We are camped tonight in Hokitika, a center for the sale of greenstone. Most of the rest of the world calls this stone jade, but here the Maori people called it what it looks like and it is still mined and fashioned into jewelry and art objects here. Gold nugget jewelry is also for sale, reminding us that gold mining was also done here.

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