Leaving Wanaka behind, we travelled straight up the West Coast enjoying the very scenic route. First, the road follows the shore of Lake Hawea, then turns and embraces the northern shore of Lake Wanaka. The steep slopes of mountains bordering these lakes all show the typical “furrows” carved by the glaciers.
After crossing Haast Pass, the vegetation turned greener and greener with temperate rain forest lining the road. For long stretches, there is dense rainforest to the right and dunes and ocean to the left. There would have been great walks, but once we left the cars big clouds of sand flies immediately surrounded us… So we sought refuge in the car. But even jumping in and slamming the doors shut did not prevent these beasts to come in.
Naturally, we checked out the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier. Nevertheless, they are really a sad sight with the glaciers’ face being covered with dark soil. Moreover, the area around it is full of debris that was pushed into the valley by the ice. After seeing Perito Moreno and Upsala Glacier in Argentina, we considered walking up to these glaciers a mere physical exercise.
Staying at Backbackers “Chateau Franz” in Franz Josef Village was a disappointing experience. Talking to the Australian couple sharing the “Ski Hut” with us remains the only the pleasant memory we have of that sad place. The village is a short string of businesses that sleep, feed and entertain tourists or take them on helicopters over the glaciers providing a permanent noisy coulisse.
Just for Heidi’s fellow Austrians: yes, it is THE Franz Josef you are thinking of. The Austrian Julius Haast, who travelled the area around 1865, is to blame for it.