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Glacier Country

Glacier Country

  • Author: Karen Patterson
  • Date Posted: Mar 10, 2015
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You know what I expected when I thought about glaciers in New Zealand? I thought the glaciers would have their terminus about 500 feet from the main highway and we’d slowly creep by in our cars, snap a few photos, and move on. Crazy, right?

And, of course, it was nothing like that.

We stopped for lunch in Franz Josef town. There were more helicopter and eco guiding shops than hotels and cafes. The little village was one street wide but it was easy enough to see that the entire income for everyone living there was from the people who came to see the moving ice.

Peter's Pool with the rain beginning to fall.

Peter’s Pool

On our way out of town, we turned into a glacier access road, drove about 2.5 miles and parked. We walked back to a little pond  called Peter’s Pool that was where the glacier reached several decades ago. It started to rain. It was back to the car park.

About 15 miles down the road we were in Fox Glacier, an equally small town with the same services as the one we had left. We stopped, picked up a local map and scoped out where we would walk the next day.

Downtown Fox Glacier

Downtown Fox Glacier

After finding our Airbnb home for the next four days, we chatted for awhile with our French hosts and their two little girls ages four and two (more about this in a later post) after eating supper in town we got a good night’s rest and started the next day under gray skies, but no rain.

Karen climbing to the Fox Glacier.

Karen climbing to the Fox Glacier.

It wasn’t a long walk to Fox Glacier. We crossed a few tiny streams and make our way up the hill to the viewing spot. Glaciers are impressive to this Midwestern born-and-bred gal no matter where they are and this one was no exception. However as we drove in, we passed several signs that read the glacier stopped here in 1750, here in 1950, etc. When we actually could see the face of the glacier at the top of our hike, it made me sad. It was easy to see the glacier was shrinking with increasing rapidity.

There it was with the bits of stone debris resting on top of the ice like speckles of sand on whitish hair. The shrunken lady had carved out the valley, and after her hard work, she was shriveling down into the wide crack between the lower mountains. Even though her icy tail impressively stretched up to Mt. Tasman, she was clearly in her death throes. Just last year you could walk out and touch her face. No more.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Mt. Cook

Mt. Cook

The next day we went to Lake Matheson. It is west of the glaciers by some miles and affords distance views of the mountains. Not only can you get a long view of the glacier, but beyond it a view of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand and where Sir Edmund Hillary trained to ascend Mt. Everest.

The lake has a loop trail of almost four miles. Along the way we made several stops to view the mountains and their reflection on the lake. Another unexpected feature is the temperate rain forest. Here we are looking at ice but standing in damp ferns, moss, and nurse logs. If you’ve ever been to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, it is much the same experience.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

The West Coast is remote. Things cost more here than other places we’ve been in the south. However, as with many beautiful and remote places, this is the price you pay for spectacular views, quiet and pastoral fields, and a slower pace. It has been at places like this that I have been thankful that we are perhaps seeing less but doing more. Viewing the river of ice at leisure gives us time to reflect on the blessings of nature that we’ve experienced.

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