Day 24: Fox Glacier - Franz Josef Glacier - PunaKaiki
19 January 2010
4600km - map

A cloud free sky punctuated only by the occasional light aircraft dropping skydivers and parachutists meant another early morning as the campervan was so hot. We took a shower (a cold one) and drove the couple of kilometers to Lake Matherson and spent an hour working up an appetite by walking round the lake. By the entrance to the lake area was a café so we had an excellent breakfast and coffee before driving to the Fox Glacier itself. We had decided after reading the leaflets that the helicopter ride through the mountain valleys which lands on the glacier would not be that impressive as in order to land it has to be much further up the valley where the glacier is flat and that would be just like landing on a ski piste - and we've been on plenty of pistes. The skies had become a lot cloudier by now aswell so any views from the helicopter would be severly impaired.

A brisk hike from the car park over the (mostly) dry river bed for about two kilometers and we reach the glacier. As we approached the face of the glacier a chunk of ice about the size of a car fell from the front, crashing into the piled ice and snow below. The closest we're allowed to get to the glacier without a guide is about 100 meters away, but it's close enough to appreciate the sheer size of the mass of ice slowly sliding down the valley. A torrent of water is constantly flowing from an ice cave in the face of the glacier - water that hasn't seen the light of day in thousands of years flows down the valley and out to the Tasman Sea.

Around 20 kilometers north of the Fox Glacier is the larger Franz Josef Glacier and after a longer hike across the valley floor we were at the face of this glacier too. Much larger than the Fox Glacier, emphasised when we caught a glimpse of a guided tour hiking along the top of the glacier that looked like ants walking along the top of a large dirty snowball. Walking back along the valley floor we stopped to taste the water flowing from a waterfall draining into the valley. It was so clear and tasted so fresh I emptied my bottle of water and filled it from the river to take with us.

We continued north along the coast intending to camp just north of Greymouth but we encountered either very exposed areas or 'no overnight camping' signs, so we ventured even further north. We ended up at a restarea just north of the town of Punakaiki where there are some 'Pancake Rocks' we are going to take a look at tomorrow. Eventually we find a spot beside the main road where two other campervans are already parked up. As we drove into the area into the restarea we asked the other campervan drivers if there were any 'no camping' signs at this area and they cheered 'no' with equal celebration to us as they had just driven down from the north, experiencing the same frustrations as us with every sign denying overnight camping they encountered.

The other campers were two german couples, one of the couples were on their honeymoon too, spending a total of 14 weeks in Australia and New Zealand and the other couple were on a 6 week hiking hoiliday in New Zealand alone. They were both very nice and we sat drinking beer and wine with them until midnight. This is the furthest north we will travel on this coast, tomorrow we will head back south and then east across the island to Christchurch along Arthur's Pass.

Lake Matherson
The Fox Glacier
Very old ice from the Fox Glacier
The Franz Josef Glacier
Waterfall in the Franz Josef valley