So, when we last left off, we were on our way out of Punakaiki and on our way down to Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand.
On our way South night, we ended up getting caught in a bit of rain. In fact, we were caught in a lot of rain. Frankly, it was more or less a monsoon. But, I am so proud of us–we still camped! Arriving at the camp site in pitch black, we pulled out our gas stove, and cooked a plate of steaming pasta under the rain, and ate standing under the awning of the public toilets under the light of Raphael’s headlamp.
Overall, this does not sound glamorous, I know. However, for me this stands out as a moment when we were troopers. We were doing something completely out of our comfort zone. We fell asleep that night to the pitter patter of rain on our rooftop. Thank god we weren’t sleeping in a tent!
The next morning, we were amazed. The clouds had left, and the only sign of any rain were the few puddles in the camping lot. Looking around, we had camped right on a river, which was rushing with fresh rain water. The mountains surrounding the area were draped in clouds in the morning humidity. Not a bad place to enjoy a morning coffee.
As we charged forward to the Franz Joseph Glacier, we needed to make a sudden stop. There in the dawn light was Lake Mapourika, a perfect mirror lake. It was one of the most serene lakes I have ever seen, as it perfectly reflected the layer of clouds that blanketed the trees around it. With my eyes still a bit tired, I had to look carefully to see the horizon line.
We continued driving until we arrived at Franz Josef Glacier. The Glacier itself is a 12 km / 7.5 mile artifact which reaches from the Southern Alps down through a temperate rainforest. Over time the glacier has retreated significantly, and today moves at about 70cm per day. Therefore, the only way to access the Franz Josef Glacier is by Helicopter.
While I am sure this would have been an amazing option, as you can imagine a private helicopter ride and tour does not come cheap. In the end, we got 500 meters away from the glacier after walking through the valley floor. The steep mountainsides of the valley floor were gushing with waterfalls, feeding small streams. The larger stream which floated through the valley floor even had a few hunks of ice floating in it!
A second small hike took us up to a look out point, where we could see how local foliage had developed into a dense rainforest with the retreat of the glacier. Looking out, it was as if we were looking at a timeline of the glaciers life.
Still somewhat early, we began to make our way to Haast Pass, planning to find an inspired stop along the way. En route, we chose to skip Fox Glacier, figuring we would spend plenty of time in the snow at Mt. Cook, and instead stopped at Lake Matheson.
Lake Matheson is another mirror lake, which is well known for its reflection of Mt. Cook in the far distance. Unfortunately, the clouds had chosen to cover up a bit of the mountains, but the view was no less spectacular. The 1.5 hour walk around the lake was extremely well groomed, but we still felt as if we were walking in a canvas of green, right in the heart of a mini rainforest! In fact, I lost Raphael a few times in his green raincoat, he camouflaged right in!
After enjoying what the mirror had to offer, we made our way back to the car just as it began to rain. We started to understand that around 4PM every day it tended to rain, motivating an early wake up time. Dry in the car, we charged on to Haast Pass for the night!