Day two at Franz Josef saw us awake to the magnificent snow capped mountain view from out deck at Glenfern Villas. This is actually the rear of the glacier. I’m sure you may get tired of such a spectacular view however it wouldn’t be for a very long time.
The previous evening we enjoyed a hearty meal at the Landline bar and grill and as is my way I tried a local ale. The Speight dark ale proved to be delicious and really hit the spot after a long day. A restful night followed ready for our glacier visit the next day.
The Franz Josef Glacier is a quick 5 minute drive out of town, where after crossing yet another single lane bridge you turn left and follow the smoky coloured river to the glacier. The river has a murky colour and it comes from the wash over the rocks etc from the glacier.
They call is rock powder and it is the only river on the west coast we have seen that isn’t that ice teal colour or crystal clear. It also had some punch with fast flowing water.
I had read a lot about the Franz Josef Glacier when I was a kid so I was really looking forward to seeing it in person. From the car park it is about 1-1&1/2 hour return walk to the viewing platform.
Along the way there are stunning waterfalls cascading down from the mountain tops and the overwhelming sound you can hear is fast running water everywhere.
We arrived at the viewing platform that was about a kilometre from the base of the glacier. My daughter who is with me had been there in 2009 and she said that when she was last there the foot of the glacier was where we were standing. The glacier had receded that much in 5 years.
The glacier is still majestic and truly inspiring, so it was absolutely worth the visit. However viewing how much it has receded left me tinged with a great deal of sadness. Is this another of our planets stunning pieces of nature being destroyed or lost to future generations. My only comment is that if you (like me) have always wanted to visit do it soon.
Like a lot of such places there are signs everywhere about staying on the path, not getting too close etc. Now most people take these warning with a grain of salt. Unfortunately in 2008 and 2009 there was a bunch of tourists that didn’t heed the warning and got too close for that better picture etc. They died under a wall of collapsing ice. My view is that is why cameras have a zoom lens!
The afternoon saw us enjoy an all day breakfast at a trendy little café called “Full of Beans” and then we decided to go for a drive. Just south of the township of Franz Josef is Lake Mapourika. It lies north of Franz Josef Glacier, and the out-flowing Okarito River drains it into the Okarito Lagoon.
It is the largest of the West Coast lakes, a glacier formation from the last ice age. Since the water from glacial melts no longer drains into the lake, it is filled with fresh rain water which runs though the surrounding forest floor, collecting tannins, giving it its dark colour. As the winds of the region sweep high above the mountains of the Southern Alps, the water is left unruffled and quite reflective of the forest on the lake fringes.
Further south is the turn off to Okarito and being the exploring type and not knowing what was there we decided to go. It was about a 20 minute drive and the road follows a fast flowing river with clear water.
The end result was tiny and quaint beachside village that faced onto a wild western beach. There is a small camping ground with good facilities (self registering) and a grass airstrip next to the campground, so be careful where you pitch your tent.
You can drive on the beach here, the access is very soft sand but he beach has a lot of smooth rock and pebble so driving is a breeze, especially in the Prado which takes such tasks with ease.
To be honest Okarito is maybe worth a visit for the beach and the drive in but the surrounds of Forks etc have some dirt tracks but not worth the time.
However if you are a fisherman the Okarito Lagoon may prove a happy fishing spot with salmon and trout seemingly popular.
One lasting impression of the northern west coast is the number of rivers, they are everywhere and there is water in abundance. I guess if you get 7m of rain a year it has to go somewhere.
Tomorrow we head south the Queenstown and hope to enjoy the scenery along the way.