So, this morning we left the boundaries of Mount Cook and her surrounding peaks to head over to the west coast, which is a journey that means returning inland to Wanaka and traveling along the shores of Lake Hawea and the tip of Lake Wanaka before continuing along the Haast Pass. This road takes you through the Southern Alps where you catch your first fleeting glimpses of Mount Cook from a different angle, down to the coastal town of Haast. It is another journey full of spectacular forest scenery and Alpine peaks that emerge in the distance above the trees. On reaching the coast we headed on the meandering road up towards Fox Glacier and its small village nestled in its foothills. The village itself is really a one street place, aimed entirely on glacier based activities, predominantly helicopter rides up and onto the glacier, albeit a landing of only about five minutes.
We checked into the Sunset Motel which gave us unprecedented views of the peaks of the snow capped Mount Cook and some of its neighbours showing themselves from behind the lower summits ahead of them.
Both Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers provide a dramatic sight as being the brightest jewels in the decorated crown of the Westland and Mount Cook National Parks, separated by the summits of the Southern Alps and the Great Dividing Range. Descending from a height of 3000m (9800ft) to 300m (980ft) at the remarkable speed of over 1m (3ft) a day, the glaciers create one of the best examples of glaciology in the world. During the summer, both villages bordering theses two glaciers are humming with activity, winter months, like now, are slightly quieter as the weather is less predictable being wet and cloudy at times, but it is amazing to see the tourism that surrounds the two, multi-million ton blocks of ice. We had decided to do a hike at the foot of Fox Glacier, but on arrival at the starting point, we found that we couldn’t go any further due to the fact that the trail had been washed away after the recent heavy rainfall and was now prone to landslides and rockfalls unless accompanied by a glacier guide. We did however see the front of the glacier, covered on its top by rock debris collected on its progression down the valley. Due to the cloudy weather, and expense, we decided against spending the money on the short helicopter excursion to land on the glacier itself.
So we headed down the grass covered valley to Lake Matheson, famed for its reflective natural pools which mirror the mountain peaks perfectly. We completed the track around the lake on a couple of occasions waiting for the conditions to be right to capture this image ourselves. Surrounded by damp, moss covered forests, it is a pleasant walk to take. Traveling further down towards the coast, we found ourselves at Gillespie Beach made up of perfectly rounded pebbles and masses of smooth driftwood stretching as far as you can see along the coast. Fur seals can be spotted frolicking in the ocean making their way up the coast to their colony at Galway Point about an hour and a half walk from the carpark. So from here you have the sound of the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea hitting this rocky shoreline, a view of the ocean to the horizon and, on turning, a scene of low grassland finishing with a view of the Southern Alps, Fox Glacier and Mount Cook, peaked in snow and hugged by green, Alpine forests Now that is WOW factor!!
The early mornings are one of the best times to experience these mountainous areas, where the overnight dew covered grass and trees begin steaming in the heat of the morning sunshine.
With the clear blue skies that we were fortunate to have, it was perfect. Waking up and going outside to see your breath in the air and seeing such sights is something that neither of us will be forgetting….accompanied by the sheer silence (apart from distant waterfalls) it is definitely a breathtaking place to experience…….another of New Zealand´s many gems……how we will miss this country……