Friday, February 15, 2013

New Zealand - Glaciers! (Day 11)

The day before, we learned that the forecast for this day was rain. I just kept hoping that it was going to be a typical New Zealand day: some rain, some clouds, some sun, some wind, some cold, some hot. Well, it wasn't. It was pouring rain, cold, and super foggy when we woke up and stayed that way the majority of the day. Unfortunately, this was the day we planned on taking a helicopter ride up onto Franz Josef Glacier (I, right?!) We had a feeling we were not going to hear good news when we arrived at Franz Josef Guides, and we were right. They weren't taking anyone up on the glacier today.

At least rain doesn't mean ugly, with rain forest and mist and random waterfalls popping up everywhere. This picture was taken from the car. 

So...we were forced with a choice. What do we do the rest of the day? Do we hike the glacier valley in the pouring rain? Do we wait out the rain and hope it clears up later? Do we head on and skip the glaciers because we have technically seen glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana?

We went up to the parking lot at Franz Josef Glacier because we figured we could brave the rain and hike the glacier valley walk. However, when we got there it was raining even harder and we saw a few people coming back just drenched. We had to consider the fact that we were staying in a campervan and wouldn't really have a ton of space to "dry" our clothes (like they would dry hanging in the campervan on a super damp day anyway!)

So....change of plans. We drove back into the little town and decided to splurge on a private hot pool at the Glacier Hot Pools. This was fancy and such a good choice! Great way to get warm and then we got a free (super nice) shower out of it too! I'm not sure I'd recommend the public pools. They seemed a bit crowded (probably because everyone else was stuck in the same situation as us!)

After relaxing in our private pool, we decided to continue down the road to Fox Glacier and check into a campervan park. We found a really nice, quiet little spot in Fox Glacier Campervan Park (part of Fox Glacier Lodge). It was very convenient to town (we walked to dinner), biking distance to the glacier, and a super close drive to the start of the glacier valley walk. By the time we checked in, it had started to clear up. I wouldn't say it was clear, but it was basically done raining. We decided to head to Fox Glacier and check out what all this fuss is about!

The drive into the valley was my favorite part of the day. There were signs that said "this is where the glacier was in 1900, 1920, etc." A sad story, but an interesting one nonetheless. There were waterfalls everywhere because of all the rain. It was just a spectacular valley, like it was right out of Land Before Time. The walk to the glacier is easy (and therefore a bit crowded), but totally worth it.

The warning signs were a little scary. I guess this one means "beware: flash flood area"?

 Stating the obvious: Rock Slide Area

 Terminal face of Fox Glacier. Probably the closest we'll ever be to a glacier. 

 You don't typically think glacier and rainforest in the same thought. But here, that's exactly what you get. Fox Glacier is 13km (8.1 miles) long and ends only 300 meters above sea level. 
 The beautiful valley 

After the valley walk, we took a quick detour to check out the 70 m long suspension bridge over the Fox River that was built in 1929. It was a little scary, especially considering how fast the river was rushing that day.

 View of the Fox River and the road from the suspension bridge. 

We shared a delicious (totally not gluten free) pizza at Cafe Neve while sitting outside (a little cold but it was the first sun we'd seen all day!) We saw the food the people next to us had ordered and looked really good too. They seemed to have a good selection of wine, desserts, and coffee too. Definitely a good pitstop on your way through Fox Glacier.

For those of you who thought I was kidding. Possum were introduced to New Zealand in the hopes of beginning a fur trade industry. You can buy possum/merino wool clothing in almost any gift shop. However, the possum has become quite a pest in the country and there are efforts to eradicate them.

Our plan was to do Lake Matheson at sunset, to catch the reflection of the mountains in the lake at sunset; however, we weren't going to get a sunset or see any mountains that evening. We decided to give it a shot in the morning instead, before heading on through Haast Pass to Wanaka.

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