Coming out of the Haast Pass we arrived into the township of Haast expecting our phones to chirp with messages from the time we had been off air but to our surprise this did not happen. Turns out there is no phone signal in Haast for either Spark or Vodafone.
We considered driving down to Jackson Bay to spend the night but people we had spoken to said that there is no freedom camping anywhere on the road there and that the camp is nothing special except the giant mosquitoes so instead headed for Lake Paringa (#6821) a DOC camp about 40kms north of Haast.
When we where planning the stop here I was a little nervous as the travel directory talks about it not being suitable for larger vehicles but it also talked about a large spacious area these two things made it hard to understand.
However once we arrived at the camp we discovered that most of the spaces are designed for something 7 metres or smaller anything bigger would protrude into the roadway. However we managed to sneak into a spot next to some trees that allowed plenty of access way behind us.
It’s a really pretty spot especially as we were lucky enough to grab one of the few waterfront spots. This did however have the added drawback of making us closer to the dreaded sandflies, so for the first time on our travels it really was important to ensure that all the fly screens where shut at all times but somehow they still managed to find a way in.
That night it started to rain making me mindful of the warning sign that lake levels can rise quickly and in the place we had parked it would have been lapping in through the doors if it had reached the level shown on the sign. But that was just me getting over anxious as when we woke in the morning the level was as it was the previous night.
Because there is so much rain on the West Coast (over 9 metres a year) it feels at times like you are driving over a continuous bridge but of course it’s just the multiple bridges that cross the multitude of rivers and streams along the way. I think we crossed over 4 of these long suspension bridges that seemed only just wide enough for the motorhome.
I had said to Sarah that rather than stop at Fox Glacier we would make our way to Franz Josef but in the end we couldn’t have stopped at Fox even if we had wanted too as for some reason the road to the glacier was closed with a couple of tour buses trying to park at the side of the road to drop off their passengers. and with nowhere to park our motorhome on the highway we would have had to walk from the village.
Arriving into the village at Fox Glacier our phones started going “ping” the first time we had cellphone coverage for a couple of days and over 300kms of travel. Why they wouldn’t have a tower in Haast is beyond me.
We arrived at the NZMCA camp at Franz Josef (#6794) during heavy rain that continued right through the night. Although sleep was interrupted by thunder and even heavier rain as if just to say welcome to the West Coast.
With the rain slightly abating we popped our heads out to see another Dethleffs Globetrotter XLi tucked away in the far corner. This is the one that belongs to Bruce and Barb who where here for the night on the way back to their home in Blenheim after a quick hello again it was time for them to say goodbye as they hit the road.
As the morning started to clear we decided that we would risk a trip to the glacier. We knew that finding somewhere to park a 9 metre motorhome at the glacier would be mission impossible so it was out with the bikes for a ride. It’s about 5kms from the NZMCA camp with a pleasant ride through the village then across the bridge and up a really well formed bike trail that initially follows the river then has a section around 2kms through the bush.
The signboard talks about smoke on the water and I know you cannot really see it in these photos but it really was like the river was covered in smoke or mist, really quite a sight. It’s these sort of things that make me glad we have the bikes as we have seen so much more than we would have done if we had just driven up to the glacier.
Talk about perfect timing just as we arrived at the car park area for the glacier where there is this wonderful shed to lock up your bikes. The heavens opened with another torrential downpour for about 20 minutes. It was so nice to have a dry spot to shelter whilst we waited for the rain to stop although we did wonder if we would have to continue the journey in the rain.
Thankfully the rain ceased allowing us to start the walk up to the glacier head. The massive carpark area was absolutely chocablock so we knew that the path would be busy but actually as the track is 2 kms in either direction the people where quite well spread out. Unsurprisingly given the deluge a number of people returning to the carpark looked like drowned rats.
With the low cloud around the hills it felt like rain was only moments away from returning but as luck would have it we managed the whole walk without the rain returning.
With the amount of rain in this area it’s no wonder waterfalls are everywhere but it’s really quite spectacular when you see the amount of water that just cascades down the sides of the hills feeding the river which had become a raging torrent.
Parts of the pathway including the large section above had obviously been washed away recently. I imagine that this might have happened during the recent cyclones and they had obviously built new pathways to continue to allow access to the glacier.
Because the glacier is retreating so quickly the rocks that had been left exposed over the previous years start firstly with the red lichen then the green moss and then as the moss starts to form peat the trees and shrubs begin to appear so in another few years the open expanses we walked will become bush making he walk completely different to how it is today.
I thought it was amusing when you are looking at such a massive landscape that these small pieces of machinery would be located close to the glacier head. I did however realise that they had probably used them in reconstructing the pathways that had been washed away. Small but effective.
The final part of walkway included these two signs that we both found rather amusing I have never seen a no stopping sign that related to people walking before but I guess with the obvious danger posed by rock falls in the area they wanted to take as few chances as possible.
Mission accomplished. This is as close as you can now get to the glacier without taking a helicopter ride as it retreats up the mountain. It really is sad to see the glaciers receding as I am sure global warming takes it toll on them. Maybe if we wait another 27 years to return the glacier will have completely vanished. It’s very sad!
The walk back to our bikes in the hut at the carpark was a chance to see the majesty of the mountains around the glacier as well as take in the terrific scenery that offers something different each way you turn.
Back at the carpark I was trying to take photos to show just how full the carpark was without any real success as you will see from these shots. When all of a sudden the clouds lifted and the glacier became more visible from the carpark than it was from walking all the way to the head. (not the greatest photo I know)
The walk according to the signboard is around one and a half hours return that seems about right for what is quite an easy walk and allows time for people to stop and take photo’s look at the waterfalls etc. the sign talks about river crossings but they have huge boulders that you can just step across and you aren’t crossing the main river anyway. no need to get the feet wet at all.
It was an easy ride back down the hill into Franz Josef itself. We were both glad that we had taken the bikes and I would recommend this to anyone staying at the camps in town a really pleasant ride no parking hassles and a shelter provided in case of rain.
It was interesting watching the number of members who turned into the road where the camp is located and then drove right past the entrance because it’s set back from the road it is a little difficult to spot. It’s a great camp with potable water as well as a dump station on site and only a couple of minutes walk to the village.
Finally after 3 nights we woke on the morning of our departure to clear skys the buzz of helicopters taking off from the nearby airfield and the amazing views of the mountains surrounding the camp site. It was truly stunning but also time to move on.