Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Once were glaciers

 I headed to the west coast, because my friend Ellen, whom I went to university with, was visiting from Tauranga. She actually lives in Wollongong NSW, but has been looking after her ancient mother, who has dementia but still lives at home. Ellen and one of Ellen's brothers take turns flying across the Tasman to take care of her, which means she has been able to stay in familiar surroundings and not be packed off to a care facility. Yes, some people make real sacrifices for their elderly parents, and with Covid19, they have had to commit to much longer stays in NZ, and time spent in hotel quarantine. So for Ellen's sanity, having committed to staying for the duration, she arranges private home care and takes a South Island road trip every six weeks or so.

Ellen is very fond of the west coast, not surprisingly, as it is quite stunning with it's wild beaches and even wilder wildlife. I stayed a couple of nights in Hokitika, we went for a drive up to the seal colony south of Cape Foulwind, and enjoyed some walks along the beach.

Ellen headed south for Milford Sound, whilst I meandered slowly southward, going for a day walk near Reefton, then stopping at Franz Josef.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers both head towards the west coast, and are surprisingly close to the ocean. As a result, climate change has had devastating effects on the ice melt, and the glaciers have receded by kilometres, not just hundreds of metres. There is a walk you can do from the carpark up to a viewpoint, with views up to the glacial moraine. Forty years ago the ice stopped at that viewpoint, now it's a very long way up the valley.

There's a great walk to be had up the other side of the valley to a viewpoint at Roberts Point. The track is treacherously slippery in spots and is definitely not for the faint hearted. It features a long suspension bridge over a gorge, an old historic hut, and a gloriously cantilevered set of steps down into a fern gully. The steps, known as Hendes Gallery, were fixed to the rock walls over a hundred years ago, so it's a pretty cool bit of engineering still being used.

At Roberts Point you are closer to the terminal moraine but it's still many hundreds of metres up the valley. Again, forty years ago you would have been looking out over the glacier, and perhaps even able to walk onto it. These days, you need a helicopter....

The walk back was actually easier than expected, mainly because the sun had dried out the exposed rock making the trail less slippery. Always a good thing on a descent!

From Franz Josef I headed south. Next stop Wanaka...

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