Posted by: scribe9 | March 24, 2010


Yup, that’s how they pronounce the word “glacier” here: no glay-shers.

We had seen plenty of high-altitude glaciers at Mt. Cook which is, like Milford Sound and numerous other places in these parts, at the end of the road. We then did a lot of backtracking–we drove about 300 miles just to get 13 miles west to the Tasman Sea side of the Southern Alps

to see the low-lying Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.

It does seem odd to walk through forests with tree ferns, practically at sea level,

to see the blue, dirty ice. The Fox Glacier

has retreated four times as far in the last fifty years as it did in the two hundred years before that. But who knows when that may change—the parking lot at the viewing point is just flattened gravel, with no permanent structure.

The outflow isn’t much now, in late summer, but clearly has brought a lot of rock recently. Many of the bridges in this area are quite long in order to span the water and debris at flood stage, and it’s amazing how many of the bridges are fairly old. There are a lot of places with bridges or roads rebuilt, though. Unlike ODOT’s rerouting of a stream on the south side of Mt. Hood, here they seem to build the roads around and over the rivers, not through them (except for fords on very minor roads).

We stopped for lunch at a place that was just the second building I’ve seen in New Zealand with window screens, but it was such a non-buggy day that we ate outside. The restaurant had lots of license plates on display, from most Canadian provinces and territories, a couple of dozen American states, some Australian entities, and both Europe and Asia including a couple from the Isle of Man—pretty rare. The restrooms were marked for Rams, Ewes, and Mixed Flocks.

The Franz Joseph Glacier

which used to stick out into the Tasman Sea (now its toe is about 13 miles from the coast) has shrunk a lot in the last three centuries (they can tell by the lines of tree growth on the surrounding slopes). However, it was considerably shorter in 1974 than it is now. Sorry, no definitive word on global warming.

The highway up the west coast doesn’t spare many views of the sea. The further north we got, the more dairies we saw. We stopped for the night at Hokitika, a surprisingly robust town, where our towels were given a certain flair.

Most of the rest of the New Zealand goldfields gave out long ago, but the local field is still yielding. There’s also a big powdered milk plant—we passed half a dozen tank trucks heading out of town as we were heading in—which ships to China.

On our way to the top of the South Island, we fortunately didn’t need gas when we saw this:

and we were surprised to find sculpture in the parking lot of a local grocery store.

Turns out there is an arts festival in the town and the owner usually buys something and plunks it somewhere on one of his properties. Trust me, this was far better than the other sculpture in the parking lot.


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