Glaciers, blowholes and ‘The Descent’
The last three days have been a glut of glorious natural sights for the two of us. It started off yesterday when we found ourselves in the glacier ridden Southern Alps. We did several walks on the valley sides of the Fox Glacier even fording a small Alpine river to get to one of the viewpoints. Alex already geeking out by this point, almost overloaded when we got to walk to the terminal face of the glacier, through the old glacier valley (the part which has been eroded by the glacier before it retreated). The viewing stop was 200m from the face and it was amazing being so close to something of such immense weight and power that it can literally rend and tear the land apart, gouging deep channels as it ploughs inexorably, unthinkingly forward.
We even got to hear the glacier groaning as it shifted its bulk down the valley and saw a chunk of ice fall from the terminal face. Even after having seen this ice fall, the multiple warning signs and the rope stretched around the viewpoint, we saw a couple ignore it all and go for a closer look. They were pretty stupid as in the last year there has been two deaths due to ice falls and numerous injuries. After tut-tutting to ourselves we set off and went to the Franz Josef glacier.
We again walked through the old valley which looked like a barren, alien landscape before coming to the stop point, 500m short of the terminal face. Alas, twas not as awesome as the Fox Glacier but we did get to see some rather large parrots chowing down on a sign. In the van on the way to our overnight stop we went passed a sign paying homage to a particular part of Alex. How they found out the details heaven knows, although with a good satellite almost anyone can see him going to the loo.
Yesterday we raced up the coast for the ferry today only making one stop. But we are so glad we did. At a little place called Punakaiki on the West coast are some amazing limestone rock formations, carved by the sea and the elements. The rocks are formed in layers stacked a top one another looking like large petrified pancakes. To add to this there are several blow holes and as a wave pounds into the rocks a stream of water and spray is shot out of the top. There are also surge pools and hollows which between them give the most fantastic images and sounds as the sea relentlessly falls upon the rock.
After wandering around the entire area (twice) we set off in search of the nearby caves in the Punakaiki cavern. The caves are well laid out for beginner caving and we made it about half a kilometre into the pitch black before realising that relying on our meagre phone torch that had only one bar of battery left probably wasn’t the best idea. Regretfully we retired, with Alex especially wishing for a proper torch, and resigned ourselves to the tedious drive up the coast. (Tedious driving, the views still as breathtaking as ever).
And so it was today that we boarded the ferry, but not before having completed the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive, a fitting end to our time in the South Island. Bathed in beautiful sunshine the road darted in and out with the coast, winding its way between Havelock and Picton. It truly has been an amazing whirlwind in the South Island and it is a bittersweet feeling leaving it behind but looking onwards to our last couple of days in the North Island.
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- Not really a rule more of an observation; for us Fox Glacier was better than the much hyped Franz Josef.
- Don’t go past the barriers! Ice is heavy and a couple of tonnes falling on your noggin can hurt.
- If you go to the Pancake rocks go at high tide and for the cavern take a torch (and spare batteries).
- A nice coastal drive is a great way to finish off the South Island.