16 March 2012

Mirror Image [Franz-Joseph and Fox Glacier, New Zealand]

Another early start, and another day on the side of the road with our thumb out. Destination: the Franz-Joseph and Fox glaciers. There is one small spot to hitch from heading south out of Hokitika, and unfortunately we were beaten there by a guy heading in the same direction. Hitching etiquette dictated that he take the first ride, which took a good 30 minutes. After he was finally out of the way we managed to get a ride within about 10. Its kinda easy when you have a nice looking Swedish girl with you!

We were picked up by a cool American guy that produces music festivals all over the world. I would best describe him as an old hippy with a bit of cash; a really interesting dude. He was heading through to the Franz Joseph Glacier himself, so was able to take us right to the start of the walking track - perfect!

Having nowhere to store our bags, Julia and I hoisted them on our shoulders and set out. It was only a 40 minute track out to the face of the glacier, so not too far. The area leading up to the glacier is a massive valley that was carved out millions of years ago. At the bottom is a dry, rocky river bed. The glacier itself was spectacular, and we were blessed with our first fine day for about a week! Unfortunately I managed to loose my memory card, so lost all the photos I took for the week after we left Hokitika. Thankfully I was able to steal a few of Julias.

We hitched back to the small village of Franz Joseph (only about a five minute drive) then stuck our thumb out and attempted to get a ride the 30kms to Fox Glacier. After a couple of minutes we saw a familiar car... it was our American friend! He had gone to check in to his hotel, then decided to go out for a drive to check out Fox. So we climbed on in once more and we were off.

Fox is less touristed than Franz Joseph, but just as beautiful. We first visited a lookout point, then walked up to the face. Again, very cool. And well worth a visit.

Next up we visited Lake Matheson, a small, fairly unspectacular lake, but famous for its reflective views of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. When we visited there was a bit of a wind, so the surface was too rippled for a decent reflection. No point waiting around hours for the wind to drop off,  so we parted ways with our new American friend, who headed back over the hill to his nice hotel in Franz Joseph village.

We did not have accommodation organised, but knew there was a paid campground nearish Fox village, and a free campground 25kms out past Lake Matheson. We attempted to hitch out there from the turn-off to Lake Matheson, but had no luck. It was about a 4km walk back into the village and the campground, but we knew it would cost us at least $30 just to pitch our tent! So we decided to scout around for a place we could just pitch our tent on the side of the road. The main problem is that NZ is really cracking down on freedom camping because of all the waste left by stupid, irresponsible people. If found, they can (and do) issue you a $200 on-the-spot fine. So if we were going to camp, we needed to be sneeky.

Problem: we were surrounded by wide open farm-land, with no good semi-hidden spots to pitch our tent. So we decided to wander back toward the lake and see if we could find any good spots. A few hours had passed and the wind had dropped off; making for perfect reflective conditions. The view was spectacular! Again, I have no photos (which I am GUTTED about) but managed to steal a few from Julia. I think she did a pretty good job of capturing the moment.

So we couldn't find anywhere decent to pitch the tent. But we did find a really nice, soft spot in some long grass that would be perfect for sleeping out under the starts. It was a little cold... actually, really cold. Being a  completely clear night, with no cloud cover at all, the temperature dropped drastically after the sun set. But it also made for one of the most beautiful sights; I have never in my life seen so many stars. The sky was absolutely FULL.

The morning was worst as the dew started to settle, so we rose pretty early and decided to get moving. We walked the 4kms back into Fox Village (along the way running into a few interesting farm animals), sorted ourselves out a bit, then hit the road.

That morning was our worst hitching experience of the trip. Well, you can't really call it a hitching experience when we just waited on the side of a road for a ride for four hours! I'm not sure why it took us so long that one time, there was a bit of traffic, but it seemed most cars were full, there were a lot of older people, and a lot of campervans (both of which generally don't pick you up). We finally managed to get a ride out to past the glacier turnoff, which we thought might increase our chances of getting picked up. It took another 30 minutes or so, but we finally got a ride with an older couple in a campervan. (The kind of people we least expected to pick us up!)

It was a nice drive down to Haast, with some beautiful coastline. We stopped a couple of times for photos and once for lunch, which the couple we were travelling with were nice enough to share. They drove us all the way through Haast Pass (more amazing views over mountains and lakes) to the Wanaka turnoff. We managed to get a ride with an American couple who took us 15 minutes down the road to a small town, where we only had to wait two minutes for another ride. This guy took us through to Cromwell, where we were again picked up after only a couple of minutes. Our final ride took us the final leg into Queenstown, where we met up with my brother Jamie, his wife Maree, and their son Saxon.

That evening we all had a good catch up, ate an amazing meal and had a couple of well deserved beers.
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