Glaciers and Gondwanaland

February 1, 2016

After an enjoyable night at the Youth Hostel, we secured a great cup of coffee, bought groceries and bid Franz Josef adieu. We finally figured out who FJ was and why the glacier was named for him. It turns out that while Captain Cook and Abel Tasman explored NZ from the deck of a ship, an adventurous German by the name of Haast was exploring the West Coast of NZ in the 1860’s. The rain forest and natives held no fear for him. It must have been a surprise to run into glaciers at just a few hundred feet above sea level that were surrounded by rain forest. He named the glacier after Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. The Emperor ruled the Austro-Hungarian from the year of revolution in 1848 until right before WWI. Sorry about the historical aside. I thought my friends should know.

The weather is great. We are enjoying blue skies and plenty of sun in one of the rainier spots on the planet. We have run into people that say it has been raining for weeks. We will see if our good fortune continues.

We wound around through the rainforest for a half hour to the tourist town that hides the entrance to the Fox glacier. Like the moderately tacky town of Franz Josef, the town of Fox Glacier has one purpose. The extraction of tourist dollars with lodging and helicopter rides over the glacier seems to be the single goal of the town. We got directions to the hidden glacier and quickly left. The helicopter flights are heavily promoted as the “new” way to see the glaciers. This is mainly because of the rapid retreat of the melting glaciers. I wonder if the towns will also melt with the the demise of the glaciers.

We actually enjoyed the visit to Fox Glacier more than Franz Josef. For one thing, you could get closer despite a stiff climb as you reached a vantage point over the eroding face of the glacier. It was fun to see the usual international group of tourists. The voluble Chinese and the demure Japanese are easy to distinguish from a distance. I still don’t understand the Japanese face masks in an environment that has to be some of cleanest air on earth. Us old Americans just wobble on and take our quota of pictures. It was hard to decipher languages since hard breathing sounds the same in all languages.

The actual geology of the Fox Glacier is interesting. Unlike the granite glacial valley of Yosemite, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers both sculpted metamorphic rock. The rock faces are readily eroded and lack the sense of permanence of Yosemite rock. Of course, Yosemite also lacks tree ferns and rain forest. There was nice suspension bridge that bounced good. The maximum capacity was debated, but it is still standing as we left. The poor little Chinese girls may have needed some fresh clothing after receiving a good bounce. I couldn’t resist.

New Zealand must have the most single lane bridges in the world. There is a sign about 10 feet before the bridge that explains who has the right of way. Unfortunately you frequently cannot see the other end of the bridge to find out if the opposing traffic is playing by the same rules. We are OK so far but I await meeting a ubiquitous camper van in the middle somewhere.

We continued on towards the coast and finally stopped at Knight’s Point Lookout that overlooked the Tasman Sea where the Antarctic currents meet the warmer northern waters. The seals were pulled out on the beach a mile or so below. It was nice to have our binoculars. We also encountered our first members of the sand fly nemesis. We would soon find more. We also found out that we were traveling through Te Wahipounamu (Southwest New Zealand) World Heritage Area. The region was once part of Gondwanaland that split from the single Earth continent a long time ago. The region contains plant life unique in the world. We would later explore on foot this rain forest.

We finally reached our destination near the town of Haast that was named for that German explorer. We purchased dinner and checked into another cottage that was near enough the ocean to be nice but far enough away to be free of sand flies. The outstanding feature of this accommodation is the washer and dryer in the bathroom. These features are great for the traveler. Peggy and Bobbie are happy and that makes me happy. They are currently cooking dinner in our kitchenette while I write and have a brew.

After a short drive recovery time, we explored the beach and didn’t like the sand flies. We saw no penguins and retreated inland. Close to our cottage is the Hapuka Estuary with its mile or so walk through primeval rain forest. The walk was mostly elevated to keep us out of the swamp and out of reach from whatever was slithering in the bush. The signage and explanations were informative and interesting. We found out about many of the unique life forms that make up the rain forest. While the bugs were deafening, we never actually saw them. The bird voices were beautiful, but the singers were well hidden in the forest canopy. Luckily there were no fruit bats and no hungry dinosaurs jumped us. It was a unique and enjoyable experience.

We also found out that Whitebait is a Kiwi delicacy that sounds less than delightful. It is highly sought after during season and there are numerous contraptions set up to catch the scaleless mostly freshwater fish as they return from their brief ocean sojourn. We might try a Whitebait Patty much later.

Dinner despite the lack of Whitebait was good and the laundry is almost done. I’ll post this tomorrow when we reach wifi land

One thought on “Glaciers and Gondwanaland

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