The long dizzying drive from Hokitika to Fanz Josef was beautiful but dangerous with blind corners and one-way bridges along the road. It rained hard during part of the trip and thankfully there wasn’t much traffic. Unfortunately the low clouds and mist obscured views of the mountains – the road was inside a cloud. The one-way bridges along Highway 6 are not for the claustrophobic – and I was happy to pass over them all as quickly as possible…
Franz Josef is a 7.5 mile long glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Together with Fox Glacier – 12 miles to the south – it’s unique in descending from the Southern Alps to less than 980 feet above sea level, amidst the greenery and lush temperate rainforest.
“The area surrounding the two glaciers is part of Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site park. The river emerging from the glacier terminal of Franz Josef is known as the Waiho River. The first European mention of one of the western-coast glaciers, believed to be Franz Josef, was from the steam ship Mary Louisa in 1859. The glacier was later named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865.
The Māori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (The tears of Hinehukatere), arising from a local Māori legend. Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Wawe, to climb with her. Wawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to go with her until an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death. His death broke Hinehukatere’s heart and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.”
The plan was to take day hikes near both glaciers Saturday BUT it was raining, overcast, and foggy and there was no visibility either place – disappointing but still the steamy mist spewing out of all the greenery was a pretty sight. I hiked in the rainforest near Franz Josef where it was misty but pleasant and the sounds were wonderful – many sweet song birds singing. I hiked to Wombat Lake and part of the Alex Knob Track loop which is about an 8-hour hike round trip. It seemed strange to have the dense tropical rainforest so close to a glacier. There are many interesting hikes near both glaciers. Sentinel Rock and Glacial Valley hikes sound especially interesting when the weather is clearer.
Tomorrow I may drive back to the glaciers or maybe just stay overnight in the area. I like the little town near Fox Glacier – very comfortable and laid back.
After talking to a few locals decided to revise my itinerary and from the glaciers will visit the following places before ending up back in Christchurch where I leave for Cambodia on November 30:
- Mt. Cook
- Te Anau – Milford and Doubtful Sounds
- Twizel / Lake Tekapo
Think I’m getting a little goofy after driving around for so long… Hope to find a nice comfy farm stay, settle in for a few days, and take day trips for a while.