Day 9: THE GREAT RECESSION
I had overslept my 5am alarm and briefly awoke after 6am. But after glancing out the window and seeing lots of fog and drizzle, I gave up hope of hiking to the backside of Lake Matheson for a postcard view of Mt Tasman reflected in the lake at sunrise. So I went back to sleep and both Julie and I got up at 8am.
It was still mostly cloudy at this time. So the plan was to go to Franz Josef Glacier before returning here in the afternoon in the hopes that the weather would improve this afternoon.
After having our own breakfast and Julie pointing out that there was a brief opening in the clouds with a view of Mt Cook so I could take photos of that fleeting moment, we left the motel at 9:45am. The weather seemed like it was still continuing to degenerate into the typical pattern of rain and a few pockets of sun piercing through some of the holes in the clouds (however rare they seemed).
We eventually got to the car park for the Franz Josef Glacier at 10:20am, which was very popular and busy as evidenced by the difficulty of finding parking spaces near the trailhead. Still, we were lucky and managed to park right in front of the trailhead.
On the approach to the glacier, despite the fog and drizzle, it seemed like there’s a pocket of sun above the glacier, which we could see from the bright bluish ice’s upper reaches. Nonetheless, we could see the dark clouds were descending on the scene. So much for the fine weather we had expected.
Having been here five years ago, we couldn’t help but to make comparisons with our recollections. One of them was a large double-stranded waterfall falling towards the glacier terminus. It was big enough for me to think this was the Unser Fritz Falls. But it somehow seemed different as it was taller than I remembered and had larger strands consisting of the stream of water whereas I swore it was a singular stream in the past.
Another thing we noticed was that the road to the car park was completely sealed now. Before, it was mostly unsealed.
Anyways, we started off the walk by getting up to the Sentinel Rock viewpoint. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the clouds had descended upon the line-of-sight of both the glacier and the Unser Fritz Falls so hardly anything was visible at the time. To add insult to injury, the rain started to fall harder as well.
So back down the trail we went where we went through a pocket of rainforest. The rainforest part I remembered, but one thing that struck me as different was that the path was much wider and seemingly flatter than in the past when it was a little overgrown in parts and seemed to be steeper and hillier.
It wasn’t long before we quickly got into the rocky glacier valley when the rainforest ended. From there, we could see that the low clouds kept the scene rather dreary, but we were able to see a little more of the glacier than we did from the Sentinel Rock.
So we didn’t hesitate in proceeding further with the walk into the rocky glacier valley. There were whole lines of people trickling both to and from the glacier itself. The walk seemed easier this time around for the path was pretty easy to follow and the stream crossings were real minor. In fact, one of the big differences we noticed this time around that there was a little footbridge going across a stream as we got closer to the falls at Trident Creek. I never recalled seeing any footbridges five years ago.
The same waterfalls we noticed on the cliffs to our right were also there, but some of them seemed to be flowing more vigorously than before.
Going pass Trident Creek meant that we should be getting close to the terminus of the glacier. But now it was apparent that the glacier did indeed recede from the last time we were here for we still had a bit more walking to go beyond Trident Creek.
In fact, I noticed that Unser Fritz Falls seemed to fall right near the dirty ice close to the terminus of the glacier. Five years ago, the falls fell near where we did the heli-hike, which was well above the dirty ice.
When we finally got to the end of the trail, we could see that it was easier to see the Waiho River gushing out of an ice tunnel at the terminus of the glacier. Last time we were here, it was harder to get that view, and there was an ice cave on the far right side of the valley well downstream from where the dirty ice was now.
I felt kind of sad that the glacier retreated so much, and I wondered in five or ten years whether there would be much of this glacier left since the rate of glacier retreat has been accelerating with Global Warming.
At least the trail to the glacier terminus felt much shorter than it was five years ago. I remembered it took at least over an hour just to get to this point from the car park. Now, it took barely an hour.
As we peered up at the glacier, we could see that we were also able to see the top of this glacier as there was a pocket of sunlight shining right onto the upper reaches of the river of ice. However, the dark clouds continued their assault on the scene stopping short of the upper reaches of the glacier. These clouds were still dumping sprinkles and sometimes a little bit of light rain making photography tricky.
After we lingered here at the glacier, we turned back thinking there wasn’t much more of the glacier to see. But as we got further away from the glacier and closer to the car park, the sun started to break through the clouds. And when I looked backwards to the glacier, I could see that the glacier started to show more of itself again while exhibiting a bit of a bluish ice color thanks to the sunlight. Moreover, the low clouds were starting to clear near Unser Fritz Falls. And when that happened, I could see the falls seemed much taller than I remembered it on our helihike (probably because the ice is lower now), and that the falls had a more double-barreled characteristic instead of the singular plume we noticed back then.
All these observations made me realize that our descriptions of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley from back then have changed over the years for glaciers are quite changeable these days.
Anyways, we returned to the car park by 12:35pm. And 15 minutes later, we were back in the Franz Josef Town. We had ourselves a decent lunch at the Landing Cafe & Bar, but after our meal (we finished at 2pm), we walked around town and took a trip down memory lane. For we saw the restaurant we dined at in the past called Beeches, which had survived over the years. However, we also noticed that the memorably named Cheeky Kea Cafe was no longer there.
The heli-hike office we were at back then was also still there as was the helipad on the western end of the main street somewhat hidden behind the trees. The town certainly seemed busier and a little more developed than we remembered it. I guess we couldn’t have expected this or any other place to remain the same over the years. It’s the nature of the beast as more tourists are here and the population continues to increase worldwide.
At 2:30pm, we returned to our car and got our book out along with some information. Now, it was time to get into our sales mode, summon our courage, and try to pitch our book in the local bookstore here called “Take Note” as well as the i-SITE.
We seemed to have gotten a pretty good response this time around and that gave us a little more encouragement that we’re doing what we needed to do to help our distributor out.
At 3:10pm, we were finally back into our motel. The weather out here seemed cloudier today than yesterday despite the sun peeking out from time to time. But at the moment, it seemed like we may not end up doing the Lake Matheson walk after all given the dreary outlook.
After taking a rest in our room, Julie woke me from my nap to point out that Mt Cook showed itself through the clouds once again. So I got up and took a few more photos of the scene before we decided to head back into town looking for a place to have dinner.
We left the motel at 6:30pm, but unfortunately, we couldn’t find a suitable place for dinner for one reason or another. One place was fully booked and couldn’t accommodate us for a couple of hours. Another one required a wait of 20 minutes, but they also charged 20% for a holiday surcharge even though Boxing Day was three days ago! Still yet another place didn’t quite have the stuff on the menu that seemed to appeal to us. But all of the places seemed busy, which made us regret not going for an early dinner, which is what we usually do.
We eventually settled on the Matheson Cafe again. I was hoping they still offered their Prime Rib Steak Sandwich, which was one of the best steak sandwiches we ever had. But they only had the more expensive dinner menu. Nonetheless, we were immediately seated and we ordered a Ribeye Steak as well as the Fish of the Day, but the food took a while to get to our table. So we took the time to take photos of Mt Tasman when it finally showed itself from time to time as we waited.
At least this encouraged us to go for a walk around Lake Matheson in the hopes of getting shots of Mt Tasman reflected in the lake. And we promptly did that at 8:20pm knowing that we had to beat out the incoming darkness.
So we hiked really quickly trying to seize the moment and get lucky in getting views of Mt Tasman with reflections in the lake. When we got to the first viewpoint, we did manage to get partial views of the elusive mountain, but there were ripples in the water at that spot and thus no reflections.
So we continued further and it took a while before we finally got to Reflection Island. There, we could see lots of reflections of the immediate surroundings, but Mt Tasman was well covered in clouds. With the wind behind us, we knew there would be no chance of seeing the mountain anymore as the clouds would continue to blow towards the mountain range and eventually condense into rain. And in New Zealand, you really have to pay attention to the direction of the wind if you care about anything weather related.
So it turned out that when we did get to see Mt Tasman, we got no reflections. And when we got reflections, we got Mt Tasman. Oh well, we tried. At least we didn’t get any more sandfly bites though we did pass through a few swarms on the way back.
By 9:30pm, we were back at the motel. Now, it was time call it a day and look forward to the next area of sightseeing on the West Coast, which was towards the Westport and Karamea areas…