Today is one of those days we’ve been anticipating with high expectations. Like Milford Sound, our destinations are iconic in the South Island and the focus of much of the posters and brochures of the tourist bureau: the glaciers. Somehow we’ve both missed glaciers in our previous travels, and with global warming doing its best to melt away the remnants of the last ice age, we wanted to see what we could before the Southern Alps become beachfront property and Miami swims with the fishes. It will be a long day.
We left Wanaka early, reluctant to leave our spacious lodging. Our first stop was a throwaway, something called the Blue Pools, and only put on the itinerary because it was relatively close to the road and wouldn’t require the usual hour-long Kiwi waldlauf that characterizes many of the side trips we’ve experienced in NZ. A short walk from the car park brought us to a swing bridge.
A little bit further and we were delighted to find that the blue pools really are blue.
Another swing bridge gave us the reverse perspective and we saw why so many people were bent over the riverbank. They were building stone cairns, adding to the hundreds of cairns of varying heights and complexity, making a walk among them an exercise in caution and wonder.
We haven’t seen this many cairns since Block Island in 2012. The stones are so tactile, the process of building so addictive, and the desire to leave something of yourself behind so magnetic that we had a hard time dragging ourselves away. Jack noted that a cairn is so much better than carving your name in a tree or tagging the rocks. It doesn’t defile the place, and Mother Nature (or a park ranger) can easily return the beach to its original state.
We drove over the Haast Pass to the west coast and turned north toward the glaciers. It was slow going both in the mountains and along the coast and we didn’t reach Fox glacier until mid afternoon. By that time the sun had disappeared and the wind chill in the river valley was plummeting. We piled on extra thermal clothing and started the long trek over rocky ground toward the face of the glacier. We had lots of company but once again the scale of the landscape swallowed up busloads of tourists and we never felt either hindered or hindering.
It’s easy to envision that the glacier had once filled this whole valley and we would like to have seen some signage indicating where the glacier was at different times in the past to illustrate how quickly it’s receding. I need to write a letter to TPTB.
After miles of upping and downing on ankle-challenging terrain and crossing a dozen rivulets over well-placed flat boulders we finally saw the dirty face of the receding glacier. Because the rocks are so unstable and there are frequent rockfalls or “slips” we were stopped quite a distance from the ice, a disappointment after so long a difficult trek.
We took the obligatory selfie and started the long trek back after re-upping on Advil for Jack’s knee and my back, realizing it was absurd to think we could have done both glaciers in one day. Fortunately our night’s lodging was booked for the town closest to the second glacier so we reasoned that a glass of wine, a pizza and a good night’s sleep will put us right for Franz Josef in the morning, Inshallah.