Greymouth to Wanaka
We headed off in search of the Glaciers early the following morning. Having never seen an actual glacier before, and only the ancient scarred landscape aftermath, I was intrigued for what was in store. Luckily, I had the field expert Jon Davies; BSc Environmental Studies with me so I was able to ask him many of my questions, which he seemed to enjoy no end. (What is a glacier being the first).
Fox Glacier Valley
The glaciers were very impressive, but the thing that really shocked me was the amount they had receded in recent times. There are markers in the valley to show how they have retreated and even when we were talking to other visitors there were some were returning after only a few years and showed us where they had been up to previously. In my opinion, this is evidence of global warming, although at the same time so many other glaciers have melted over the past million years.
Franz Josef Glacier
The accessibility of the Glaciers also shocked me, and led to a debate between Jon and I about charges to see national parks and other similar tourist attractions. We drove our car to a car park, and were fully prepared for a long walk to see the sight as this was the impression that we got from the tourist information as there was a fee to drive your car or van up to the car park nearer the glacier, on both the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
However, after packing a lunch and putting on our walking boots, it was a slight uphill walk and we reached the car park within about 20 minutes and the walk was very pleasant with great scenery. It is really shocking after the efforts to 'conserve' the glacier by fencing it off to stop it being damaged that they would then make it so accessible, but obviously the temptation to make so much easy money was overpowering.
Unfortunately we couldn't afford the heli-hike onto the glacier, but to put the extra car park in closer to the glacier seems to me to be an unnecessary and intrusive addition to what would be a rewarding walk for those who actually wanted to see the glacier and enjoy the natural wonder, but then maybe it’s just me who thinks that unlike supermarkets or a local convenience, some things are worth putting in a little work to get to.
I would highly recommend a visit to the glaciers, and from everyone else we talked to who had visited I believe that the heli-hike would be very interesting if you could afford it. However, this was not the impression I got from those who had just done a guided walk, and would recommend going up to see the glacier and checking any routes in the tourist information if you have time before booking onto these walks as you may be paying to see much of what you could for free, and the information provided can easily be accessed in leaflets and boards in the area.
As you may imagine, the Glaciers were located in relatively isolated beauty, and the next stop for us was Wanaka. After some time out of town, and with two discount vouchers for X-Base that I had won in a competition in Wellington, we headed for Wanaka and the start of a slightly different experience in the South.
Back in the Car to Wanaka