Friday, October 21, 2011

Franz Josef

Queenstown to Franz Josef

 The expected long drive to Franz Josef started just after 10am on a sunny Sunday. The route soon got longer when we decided to stuck to the highway instead of Mr Google’s suggestion of some arse backways ski slope route. The highways themselves can be less than easy driving around these parts so I didn’t fancy driving the village on wheels up any unsealed mountain tracks.

The journey was a slog, ridiculously stunning once again, but a slog. Around Lake Wakatipu, followed by Lake Hawea, then Lake Wanaka. Each one bluer than the one before.  (Technically I reckon Hawea was by far the bluest but there’s no phrase for that, anyway...). We trailed on through Mt Aspiring National park, along lakes Moeraki and Paringa, and into Westland National park. 

The last 25kms into Franz Josef were the craziest, twistiest, uppest and downiest I have ever driven bar none.

After far too many hours driving it was nice to pull into the campsite and get our feet on solid ground. A mile long walk back into the Frans Josef township (population 220) for dinner and to make a booking for tomorrow’s adventure and we were ready to crash out for the night.

 The following morning was glorious. Blue sky, warm sunshine, with the gentlest breeze for company. We walked back into to town to see if we could go ahead with our plans, the tour company had enough names and we were on, a helicopter flight up and over the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.

Nestled into the chopper, with shades, headphones, and toddler in place, we lifted up and over to the front face of the Franz Josef with its remarkable ice sheet coming to a dead stop in the valley. Up the snow covered mountains we flew towards Mount Tasman, before circling and landing on a flat ledge God only knows how high up. Out we climbed onto the cleanest snow, with higher snow covered peaks around us on 3 sides, and the glacier below, followed by the bare valley and its path to the Tasman sea.

Walking around on 350 metres deep of undisturbed snow, it was once again, just stunning.

The time came to climb back on board and we flew out over the Victoria Falls and the Fox glacier that it rushes into below it. The half hour went too fast and within what seemed like just a couple of minutes we were back on solid ground in the township after a genuine once in a lifetime experience.

Glacier tours are pretty much all Franz Josef has to offer a passer-by, so we decided to forego a second night there and get a head start on the long trip to Picton the following day by spending the night a couple of hundred kilometres further up the coast in Greymouth. 

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