We had really very little time in Wanaka (another one on the list for next time) as the weather changed today and we lost the blue skies from yesterday and now have completely overcast skies which did not bode well for our trip to the Franz Josef where we planned to do a heli-hike which needs around four hours of completely clear conditions (mainly for the pick-up and drop off).
We are now heading up the west coast of NZ which is one of the least densely populated areas of the country, which in a country which is around 12% larger than the UK but with only 4.4 million people means it’s pretty sparsely populated! It’s also fairly densely wooded which I hadn’t expected although it makes sense since a lot of the locals (especially tour guides, farmers etc.) that we have met have talked about farmland that needed to be cleared of trees. Travelling in such sparsely populated places means a couple of things; there is often no cell phone coverage; you better not have an accident; you better not run out of petrol! We’re glad that our Toyota Camry is very economical.
Wanaka to Franz Josef is just under 300 km or about a four hour drive and there are very few towns to break up the drive and, because of the dense wooded nature of the landscape actually very little to look at, so the entertainment is mostly the occasional glimpse of coastline and occasionally overtaking a campervan (there seem to be more in this section of the country than elsewhere).
We had one or two stop offs along the way but even the guide books struggle to find anything interesting on the route so we have very few pictures for the blog today.
There are two glaciers to look at, the Fox and the Franz Josef which are separated by about 25km. Interestingly there is no skiing in the area and the glaciers go down to about 500-600 meters which is lower than where we live at home!
We stopped at the Fox Glacier first and took a stroll up to within about 200 meters of the glacier face which is the closest they will let you get (especially considering that two Indian Tourists were killed by an ice fall a few years ago). New Zealand’s glaciers have some unique features which means they move about 10 times faster than those in Europe which combined with a constant advance and decline of the glacier face means that managing tourists is a real challenge as the environment changes every day.
Having seen the Fox Glacier we headed into Franz Josef to be met with completely overcast skies and drizzle which is expected to continue for the next 48 hours. So although we are here there seems little chance that we will see the glacier the way we intended. The weather forecast tomorrow is also not good but we will see what the morning brings and then make our next plans from there.
The problem with visiting the Glaciers is that you are pretty here for that and that alone (whether it be viewing them, walking them or walking up to them) and if those ‘attractions’ are not available then there is very little else available to the casual visitor which given the generally poor west coast weather makes a visit a bit of a lottery.
On the brightside we are staying at a really nice B&B called Holly Homestead where (not for the first time on this trip) we are the only guests. November / Early December seems like the perfect time to visit NZ.