Having done few multi day tramping trips in the north of the South Island, we decided to move bit more to the south of New Zealand. We split the way into few sections stopping in some places for a day or two. We took this opportunity to do few short, one-day walks, without heavy backpacks on.
Franz Josef Glacier from two viewpoints
One of our stops on the West Coast was Franz Josef. This little village is very popular destination as it is a gateway to the Franz Josef Glacier. There are many companies offering different kind of activities on, over or close to the glacier. The village is very touristy with many hotels, holiday parks and restaurants, but it doesn’t look so crowded. We had no intention of taking part in the paid tours and decided to do something on our own. We booked the tent site at one of the hostels for two nights and decided to explore this spectacular area on foot.
The day we arrived, in the afternoon, we took couple of short walks. First path, through the native forest took us to Callery River and Callery Gorge. Later we continued to Tatare Tunels, which are old water tunnels that were used to pipe water for the gold mining purposes. We had head torch with us, so we explored the tunnel itself. Few hundred meters of walking in ankle deep water through dark and narrow tunnel. We saw some glowworms, when we turn the lights off. Both paths were very nice and easy, perfect for an afternoon walk.
For the next day we planned to walk Alex Knob Track to the top, which offers superb views of the glacier, mountains and seascape. The weather forecast did not look promising, there was rain coming in. There were dark clouds hanging over the mountains in the morning, but we were determined to go, hoping for the best. First, we walked few kilometres along the road to car park where the path starts. From there, the track climbs steadily from lowland forest to alpine meadows and herb fields. The difficulty of this path is rather in the ascent, not in the path itself, although it can be tricky when wet and slippery. There were two main lookout points on the way up. On the first, we were still able to see part of the glacier behind the mist and under the clouds. The second viewpoint offered nothing but clouds. We continued up the track, when it started to drizzle and then rain. Surprisingly in this weather, we met few people on the way up, or already going down.We arrived at the top and it got quite cold and wet, so we put raincoats on. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky and the clouds obscured our view. We had to use our imagination, but we had great time on the top. As we took all the necessary gear with us we sat down for coffee break in our bivvy shelter which finally could be used! When we started walking down, the weather was getting better with every hour. It stopped raining and by the time we got down, the sun appeared on the sky from behind the cloud. We stopped at the Main Car Park and had dinner break.
The weather cleared up, the day was still young, and we weren’t that tired, we were still hungry for more views of the glacier. We had quick look on the maps and on the spot decided to take the chance and walk Roberts Point Track which offers spectacular views of the glacier, rock walls, waterfalls and mountain peaks. With high spirits and light backpacks we moved quickly, even though the path was fairly challenging rough and wet in places, leading over ice-carved rocks and across many streams and several suspension bridges. The track takes you to an elevated platform with direct view of Franz Josef Glacier. It’s definitely worth the effort. We arrived about 6 pm at the end point, so we did not spend much time there, but we had the chance to see the glacier in the last rays of setting sun. We knew that we had long way back to village, so we just had quick snack, make some photos and started going back, to make sure we will do the difficult parts before it will get dark.
That was great day, even though it didn’t look promising in the morning. 35 kilometres of distance and 1900 meters of ascent made it challenging but very rewarding hike.
Skyline Track with Roys Peak
Wanaka is very popular holiday resort town on the shores of Lake Wanaka. It offers range of activities, attractions and events for all ages. From the many options, after long and tiring discussions, we have chosen hiking….again :) To start with, we opted for one day walk, to slowly immerse ourselves in the beauty of this stunning area.
As we wanted to be able to start the walk from Wanaka, the natural option was to hike up the Roys Peak offering breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka, its islands and bays, and surrounding peaks. This is popular track, so we expected to meet many people on the way up to the summit.
From Wanaka we followed Waterfall Creek Track, winding along the lake shore and then through the farmlands we got to the Car Park where the Roys Peak track starts. Quick snack and we were ready for proper climbing. The track is well-formed, but the climb is quite steep, it takes from the lake level up to 1578 meters above sea level. We were full of energy, with only light backpacks and soon we started overtaking people going up. However, from time to time we had to stop to catch the breath. Through the alpine meadows and tussock grasslands we were making our way up quite quickly.
We started walking in the sunny weather, and with every meter up, we had better views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Unfortunately the closer to the summit, more clouds were coming over. It started to drizzle at some point and low clouds obscured the view. We had no chance of seeing the superb panorama promised in travel guides. We reached the summit, but did not stay there and walked a bit further, off the main track and made a coffee break. For protection from the wind we hid ourselves behind small technical building and in our bivvy shelter.
Although the weather did not look good at all, we decided to continue the walk along the Skyline Track. Equipped with rain coats and rain trousers for protection from the rain and cold wind we moved on. Following the ridgeline we walked down to a saddle and then back up to Mt Alpha. Unfortunately we did not see much, as everything was covered in low clouds. From time to time thorough some clearings gave us the idea how it would look like in clear weather. We were a bit disappointed that we were missing all those spectacular views, as the path was one of the best we walked so far. There were narrow sections of track around rocks with steep drop off on one side. We even considered waiting for the weather to clear up, but it did not look like, so we carried on slowly. We started descending through snow tussocks until we reached farm track. When we left the clouds, we stopped for dinner. After break, we continued steadily down to the Spotts Creek and then over grassy flats and meadows to Cardrona Valley Car Park, leaving all clouds behind.There was still 10 km along the road back to Wanaka. We were prepared to walk it, but first we took our chance and tried to hitchhike. The luck was on our side, and very nice lady took us back right to the camping where we had our tent.
That was very nice and successful hike, probably one of the best one day hikes we have done. We were just bit sorry for the clouds, and that we could not fully appreciate the views, especially that next day was a cloudless weather.