Tag Archives: Rain

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We jumped a few miles N and back W towards the coast, just in time to catch a bit more rain and cloud rolling in from the W. Our luck has just not been with us weather wise.

We tried to get up on to Fox Glacier but were disappointed two fold. Firstly there had been too much rain overnight so the access road was closed and secondly, because the glacier had retreated so much, the only way to get on to the glacier was by helicopter, at only $400 a head……

.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We headed for a low level walk around Lake………. It is the place where that perfect, flat water, snow clad reflected Mt Cook photo could be taken. There was bugger all chance of that with the wind and low cloud we had!

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S IslandFox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

However, it was a pleasant (and dry – yeah!) walk around the lake, stomping past endless Chinese tourists and by the time we finished the walk at lunchtime, the access road to the glacier had been reopened.

Just a couple of miles driving took us to the car park where we started the 2km walk up to where the last view point is for the glacier. It is an easy if exposed walk but be prepared as it is cold, steep and the weather can change suddenly. We watched a few families turn back on the track, caught out by a sudden shower with no raincoats and in one case, wearing just flip flops and a wife beater.

The glacier is dirty where it terminates but impressive in size once you understand the scale. What is more frightening is just how quickly the ice has regressed. In 2008, when our friend Kirsty Baxter was here, she was able to step on to the glacier from where this photo was taken.

Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

That means the ice has retreated at about 100m a year since then.  The Ranger we spoke to said they saw no evidence that the retreat would slow down. It won’t be long before it shrinks back up to the upper ice field only.

We headed back to the campsite and were sitting down for tea when suddenly, finally, out of the gloom, we could just see the sharp white peak of Mt Cook. We ran for the car and raced a few miles to get to a position that we could see the full mountain. For half an hour, it stood proud, unencumbered by the low grey clouds and took our breathe away. In the evening light, it was spectacular.Fox Glacier and the West Coast of S Island

We had intended to spend more time exploring the West coast but as the rain determinedly continued to fall, we decided to head N to where we hoped it wasn’t as wet. We stopped over night at Greymouth, staying in a two room lodge with Alastair and Gill, watching the rain pour down. The upside was the campsite had a very good hot tub that we cooked in for a while and we took the chance to turn the lodge heating up full to dry out some of the camping gear.

The next day we pulled in to Pocatika, the home of NZ greenstone carving. We visited one of the greenstone carving houses and watched the carvers at work, making beautiful artefacts being sold at huge prices.  You could say that greenstone is the NZ semi-precious stone. Many Maori wear a necklace using one of the traditional patterns of a tiki, a fishhook or a spiral (single or double) being the most common types. Each shape has its own meaning. I’ve taken to wearing a fishhook which is supposed to bring good fortune to those who travel by sea. I’ll take any help there!

The Maori have a story of how greenstone came into being. Once upon a time, a god became enamoured by a beautiful woman who perhaps unwisely turned down his advances. Annoyed, the god killed her by throwing her down in to a lake. When she touched the water she turned into the mother lode of greenstone, so supplying the Maori forever more with a much admired, very hard rock to make ornaments and their traditional weapons from.

As we headed N so the clouds gradually broke up. We even glimpsed blue sky. We lived in hope.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound is, according to the Lonely Planet, one of the top 100 places to visit in the world. Fjordland, the National Park in which it sits, is ranked second only after Yellowstone. With that in mind, we were pretty excited to be headed towards the area. Our only reservation was it is also one of the wettest places on Earth with more than 6m of rain falling annually – six times the national average of NZ – and summer was already a month late. And it was cold. And raining……

Milford Sound is very definitely at the end of the road. The nearest town, with the last access to food and fuel is Te Anua which is about 100km S of Milford. It also has an excellent pie shop called Miles Better Pies. The Venison and the Chicken and Cranberry ones are strongly recommended – yum.  The whole area is protected and only officially approved sites have been developed, most of them to a basic standard. Few businesses are allowed to operate within the park and are tightly controlled. The number of campsites is small and each is allowed few campers. For self contained vans, it is a little easier with several dedicated sites that they can park up on. Conservation is the name of the game.

We chose to stay at the wonderfully named Knob’s Flat, about 50km short of Milford Sound and the last campsite that had space for tents. Note for others – you MUST book ahead if you wish to stay in the Milford Sound. If you don’t you are most likely going to find yourself all the way back at Te Anua. We arrived in the rain and set up on a damp spot, surrounded by bog. The whole area had had heavy rain for several weeks, summer just not arriving as it was supposed to and everything was waterlogged. Sadly that also meant low cloud and fleeting views of the hilltops around us.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

The campsite had an excellent little kitchen which, due to the small number of campers allowed, never felt too busy and was a friendly chatty place.  We met some exchange students from Edinburgh Uni doing some exploring and a UK mum, Alice and Rose, her very small daughter, travelling in a beat up caravan, wondering if she really wanted to go back to Europe.

Although advertised as such, it didn’t really have “the best showers in the world”. Saying that, we saw a few walkers coming out of them with big grins on their faces, having warmed up for the first time in days. It is all relative.

I dare say the drive up to Milford would have been amazing if we had been able to see anything. As it was, there were an awful lot of waterfalls, lots of steep green slopes disappearing into the cloud and a boring amount of rain. The highlight was the 1.5km long tunnel, burrowed through a mountain to reach the valley that led to the Sound.

Even though we could only see to about 1100m, Milford Sound was still pretty special. The waterfall by the ferry port was thundering away and throwing our huge amounts of water and spray. We walked around the Sound on one of the trails, dodging the rain and seeing some bedraggled wildlife, mainly consisting of Chinese tourists, of which there were many……

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

On the way out from Milford Sound, on the recommendation of our camp manager, we stopped at The Chasm. Well named, millennia of water has torn through the earth, leaving interesting shapes ground out of the rock, a very, very deep gully and lots of roaring noise.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

In the car park, we met NZ’s parrot, the Kea, of which there are thought to be about 5000 left. One took a shine to Eleanor’s boots. They are not tame as such, just so used to being watched they feel totally unthreatened. There are notices up everywhere asking tourists not to feed them at all.  Their colouring allows them to blend in to the green canopy. Once they flex their wings, you get a glorious blast of colour as the hidden orange and red plumes suddenly become visible. Their habitat was hard hit during the logging eras of the past century but their numbers are now on the increase.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surroundings

Our last stop in the Sound was at Lake Marion. There were a couple of walks we could have done including a few hours hack up to the lake itself but with more rain forecast and not being well equipped if bad weather had come in,  we opted for the shorter walk, following the trial up the hill for a couple of miles, crossing a rather wobbly swing bridge (largely due to Hannah and Eleanor’s antics on it)  to see the rumbling waterfalls.

Milford Sound and SurroundsMilford Sound and Surrounds

The whole drive back to Te Anua was in drizzling rain and again we got to see only the bottom of the valley. I suppose we were just unlucky with the weather but it was a shame that one of the most glorious areas of NZ had chosen to hide itself from us. We left Knobs Flat and Milford a little disappointed and headed  towards Cromwell and Queenstown. Queenstown is a winter skiing destination, described as very touristy in the summer season but a favourite of Lorna of Quatsino and Cromwell, just up the road , a recommendation of Paul Sell, an area he loves for its walks. We stopped just once more at the pie shop and headed N following the inland road to our destination.

Milford Sound and Surrounds

Milford Sound and Surrounds