Fox Glacier, New Zealand – February 20, 2016
Our bed and breakfast hosts made a delicious breakfast for us on the final morning of our visit to Queenstown. After breakfast, we settled our bill, piled into the SUV, and hit the road again.
I planned to travel just over four hours on Highway 6 to Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, about 10 miles out of Queenstown, TomTom raised her head. Instead of continuing on Highway 6, she directed me to turn onto the Crown Range Road toward Cardrona and Albert Town. As I noted in several other posts about our South Island trip, I decided not to argue.Just after leaving Highway 6, the paved road began a steep climb over the mountains. Many switchback turns helped us make it to the summit. The route took us through one of New Zealand’s old gold mining districts. Traveling through Cardrona reminded us somewhat of the old gold mining towns in Colorado.
On the other side of Cardrona, I saw several cars parked on either side of the road. I could not quite tell what was going on. At the instant I reached the cars, I realized why the cars were there. They were admiring and photographing the Bra Fence. Yes, you read that correctly, Bra Fence. An avid photographer and a male, I wanted to stop. My three female passengers vehemently overruled that desire. So, it was on to Albert Town.
Just before Albert Town, we entered a beautiful area of New Zealand, the Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea area. The area looked amazingly like that around Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado. However, the lakes are enormous in comparison to Blue Mesa. Lake Hawea, the smaller of the two New Zealand lakes, is about three and one-half times as large as Blue Mesa. Lake Wanaka is an impressive five times larger. At the closest point, the two lakes are only about one kilometer apart (just over a half-mile).
Even though the lake area was beautiful, the next area we traversed, Mount Aspiring National Park, was spectacular. The National Park is a west coast rain forest. It is impossible to describe the unending shades of green throughout the forest. The moisture from a light mist seemed to enhance the colors. As our altitude increased and decreased, the amount of fog increased and decreased as well.
Highway 6 followed alongside the Haast River through the majority of the National Park. The lower in elevation we went, the wider the Haast River valley became. The river joins the Tasman Sea near the village of Haast. We stopped there to have lunch. I decided to have a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. In New Zealand, they call those a ham and cheese toastie.
After lunch, we were back on the highway. We still had another 60-plus miles to attain our final destination of Fox Glacier. Because of the twisting, turning, roads in New Zealand, our planned four-hour journey became a six-hour sojourn. We finally made it to our hotel around 15:30.Fox Glacier is a small village. We found out at dinner just how little. The population is about 200 people. Virtually all of those are involved in the tourist industry. One of the largest cogs in the tourist machine is the heli-tours. While we were there, dozens of people were always waiting for a helicopter to take them to the top of Fox Glacier. We opted to drive and walk.
The next morning, after breakfast, we set out for Fox Glacier. The glacier’s namesake is Sir William Fox, a past Prime Minister of New Zealand. Backtracking on Highway 6 just one mile, we turned left on Glacier View Road. In about two miles, we arrived at the parking area at the end of the road. There was a well-manicured path leading into the rainforest. It was about a ten-minute walk to the viewing area. Walking through the rain forest, we were all amazed at the various floras. Of particular interest to me were the ferns. As new shoots of the fern grow, they sort of unroll and spread their fronds. The Maoris believed the unrolled fern was a sign of life, new beginnings, or rebirth. That sign figures prominently in Maori art, referred to as koru. One of my photographic goals, while I am here, is to get the perfect shot of a live koru.
At the end of the trail, the “viewing area” was simply a small opening in the trees. Regardless, one could look easterly, up to the Fox River valley. In between clouds, since it was somewhat foggy, we could see the blue face of the glacier. We also saw a parking area across the river. There were dozens of vehicles and motor homes. We decided we would go there and see if we could get a better view of the glacier.
Driving the Fox Glacier Access Road, we saw a sign that noted the glacier had been there in the 1700s. At first, we did not understand what that meant. Then it dawned on us that the face of the glacier had been at that point in the valley. That was probably one mile from the parking area and about two miles from the current face of the ice.
From the parking area, a string of people hiked toward the glacier and back again. Leslie, Hillary, and I wanted to walk a little way to try to get a better view of the glacier. Lorraine opted to sit on a rock near the parking lot and wait for us. We continued for a couple of hundred meters or so. We were able to get a magnificent view of the glacier. We also saw a gruesome sign warning people to not stray off marked trails for fear of being crushed by ice falling from the glacier.
A few photographs later, we hiked back to Lorraine. When we got back to her, she asked if we had felt the earthquake. The three of us looked at each other and replied we had not. Lorraine had felt it while she sat on the rock. We must have been walking at the time. I checked later and found the earthquake was a 3.8, very slight. That is just one more reason we did not feel the quake.
We decided we wanted to go to the beach that day. We left Fox Glacier and stopped in town to get the makings for sandwiches. We took the groceries and headed to Gillespies Beach. It was only about a 14-mile drive, but most of that was on an unpaved road. Just as Gillespies Beach Road left the river valley, there was a rather ominous warning sign. I did not think the way was as bad as what the sign seemed to indicate.
At the end of Gillespies Beach Road, there was a small parking area. We opened the back of the SUV and had our picnic lunch. Then we walked down to the beach. The beach was not sandy. Instead, there were pebbles and small stones making up the beach. However, turning around and looking to the east, we saw the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook. With an altitude of 12,217 feet, Mount Cook is the highest point in New Zealand. It seemed bizarre to be on the beach and yet see these extremely tall and snowy mountains.
Gold was discovered near the beach in 1865 by a miner named Gillespie. As with gold strikes in other parts of the world, men descended to the location in droves. Some miners invariably died there. The burial place is the nearby Miners Cemetery. We walked the five-minute trek to look. Many of those interred there were from either Ireland or Scotland.
Done exploring, we drove back to the hotel to prepare for the next day’s departure.