New Zealand > South Island > Haast Pass to Fox Glacier

Saturday, 9th Aug 2008

It’s another very cold morning when we bid farewell to our delightful lodge, comfy Queenstown home for two nights.

We retrace the route we entered Queenstown 2 days ago, and take one final look at The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu. Good weather is still with us.

We are doing a long drive today, a 370km stretch from Queenstown across the mountains to the west coast to Fox Glacier. Then we spot this Crown Range Rd between Queenstown and Wanaka which could shorten the drive by some 50km. The only catch is, it’s a risky road, what but the heck! For map CLICK HERE.

We safely got past the winding road in the high snowy mountains and soon find ourselves at Cardrona, another ski centre with its landmark hotel, leftover from its gold rush heydays …

… and also a classic Chrysler.

Next to the hotel, an old pub which tells you to buzz off if you have no money. 🙂

Half-hour later, we enter the town of Wanaka with its beautiful Lake Wanaka, another glacial lake. Wanaka is an excellent alternative to crowded, commercialised Queenstown, to be used as a base. We are back in Otago region.

Past Wanaka, we are on Route 6 which goes all the way to the west coast of South Island. Just out of town, we take a breather at another wonderful lake, Hawea.

Lake Hawea, formed 15000 years ago when a huge glacier retreated, is a popular spot for fishing and boating. Another trench, it’s 40km long and 400m deep.

On the other side of Route 6, is Lake Wanaka, where further south the town is situated. This lake is 42km long and about 300m deep, it’s NZ’s 4th largest.

The lake is in a U-shape valley, and on the other side, inspiring mountain peaks.

We move on and enter a glacial valley with a river which feeds Lake Wanaka. This is Mt Aspiring National Park, where the Haast Highway crosses the mountains to reach the west coast.

Along the Haast Pass, another gigantic glacial valley and more tall mountains. Note the flat floor of the valley full of gravel, and the two rivers.

In the clear blue sky, there’s a half-moon.

Pebbles on the surface of the glacial valley. Could these be the morraine debris left behind by the ancient glacier which once filled this huge valley?

Soon we arrive Haast, a village of 300 people on the Tasman Sea.

I stop to look back at the majestic mountains we just crossed. Queenstown is already 262km away.

And we have another 118km to go before we can call it a day.

Rural NZ has countless one-way bridges, and this Haast Bridge is the longest I’ve seen so far. Not a problem since traffic is minimal in this part of the country.

Haast River, fed by melting glaciers and snow, empties itself into the Tasman Sea, 2.5km away.

Crystal clear water of Haast River.

Upstream, view of the mountains which gave birth to the Haast River.

We are still on Route 6, now dubbed the Glacier Highway because it passes by two of the greatest glaciers in the world – Fox and Franz Josef.

The Tasman Sea is also not to be outdone, scenery-wise. This is Knight’s Point. The story is, ‘Knight’ was the name of the dog of the surveyor who worked with the Glacier Highway construction crew. They did not want the beautiful spot to be named after some politician or senior government guy, hence the doggie’s. 🙂

Vast emptiness – 1700km to the west, you hit Tasmania, Australia, and to the southwest, nothingness till Antarctica, more than 4500km away.

Lush vegetation faces the sea, as this is one of the wettest places in NZ, receiving up to 6m of rainfall per year.

Roadside plant.

Pristine Lake Moeraki, surrounded by rainforest.

I’ve seen 2 of these ‘modified’ signages before I stopped for this one, somewhere near Lake Paringa. I guess the road maintenance crew just leave them as they are. 🙂

After Knight’s Point, the Glacier Highway winds itself northeasterly in the rainforest before touching the sea again at Bruce Bay. Motorists are warned of stones and debris flying across the road at this exposed stretch. Storms from the Tasman Sea can be brutal.

We are not far from Fox Glacier, and I spot what looks like Aoraki Mt Cook.

Past a bridge over the river fed by water from Fox Glacier, we take a turn-off.

The carpark is in a valley carved out by Fox Glacier hundreds of years ago. The glacier has since retreated …

… so we have to walk another 1.5km to view it.

We catch a glimpse of the top part of the glacier. The next 200m of footpath is susceptible to rockfall so ‘no stopping’ and be ready to run. 🙂

That’s the source of the rockfall.

It is so cold that a pool is still frozen over, and it’s already 4.00pm.

But the cold does not seem to bother this bloke in his flip-flop.

The rocky footpath skirts the northern edge of the valley.

Everywhere we see debris. Rocks with the familiar abbrasion marks caused by the moving river of ice grinding against them.

The lines of abbrasion are even more pronounced here.

Halfway through our walk, the glacier looms. This monstrous river of ice, which starts at the base of Mt Cook, drops 2500m and is 13km long. The ice flows at 7m per day, fast by world standards.

We are still more than a mile away from the glacier, and the thing is already looking awesome.

The front end of the glacier is called the terminal face, and to imagine its size, just note the specks of humans at the base, near the cave and blue ice. Hope they are there with an authorised guide.

We arrive at the viewing area, and are restricted from going further. Danger of rockfall and icefall. Only with a guide one can proceed.

The terminal face is still 1.5km away and fills up the huge valley.

It is characterised by the darkish moraine and compacted blue ice, and the ice caves.

We see rocks falling from the top of the face from time to time.

Full view of the Fox Glacier’s terminal face. To see the whole glacier from above, CLICK HERE.

View of the crevasses atop the face. Impressive display, definitely a must-visit to anybody coming to NZ.

It’s getting dark so we grudgingly leave the place.

One final look at the giant. It’s just a sight to behold, like the Deer Cave in Mulu (see HERE). In the 50s the terminal face would have been right here, next to us. Good news is Fox Glacier has been advancing again since 1985.

I’m still impressed with the rocks in the area, especially this big piece (see the yellow car key holder for comparison), with its lines of abbrasion. Imagine the amount of force at work here.

We return to the carpark and find our way to Fox Glacier Village, a small settlement servicing the glacier visitors.

As the sun sets, the mountains of the Southern Alps make a splendid backdrop to Fox Glacier Village. We cross the road to have some pricey fish & chips and are back in our warm room as the temperature gets sub-zero again.



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