Day 42-43: Franz Josef

Yesterday was a loooong travel day. I departed Nelson at 7:20AM and arrived in Franz Josef at 5:00PM. We made a few stops along the way, one at the infamous Pancake Rocks pictured below. The layered appearance of the rocks is still one of the many mysteries of the natural world. The drive was quite beautiful the whole way; the whole west coast looks like the scenery from the opening scenes of the 2005 King Kong movie (I think that may actually have been where it was shot but must verify on imdb).

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Franz Josef is a very small tourist town famous for the local Franz Josef glacier.

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After a quick walk around town I went for a run on the Connery Gorge walking trail. New Zealand’s parks department is really on top of their game–every place we have been has tons of great trails that are scenic, well-marked, and very well kept! Trail running is so far superior to road running because you have to focus on where you’re stepping and briefly forget how much running sucks.

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Since 2008, the Franz Josef glacier has been receding dramatically due in large part to the 1.5 degree temperature increase attributed to global warming. The only way the general public/tourists can access the glacier is by helicopter which runs you upwards of $300/person. I’ve been there done that in Alberta and also am trying to escape winter not be reminded of it so I opted to take a shuttle to the bottom of the glacier and go on a number of different walks.

The first track was called Peter’s pool where you could take in beautiful views of the glaciers reflection in the water.

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The second trail takes you out onto the riverbed where the glacier extended to at one point hundreds of years ago. At the end of the trail is a lookout to the glacier (150m away) and there is a sign that says the glacier extended to where you are standing only 3 years ago in 2010!

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The characteristic that sets Fran Josef apart from other glaciers is the fact that it comes down into a temperate rainforest–I walked across the river bed in a tank top and shorts. This is supposedly true of only three glaciers in the world, Franz Josef, Fox (nearby), and one in Argentina. It is actually quite strange and cool to see mountains amidst tropical foliage.

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On my out of the park I completed a survey for a research assistant from a local university. The survey asked questions about my experience at the glacier, if I would have visited knowing it could only be accessed by helicopter, if I believe humans have played a large role in global climate change, and what my expectations for the glacier are in the future. So it is pretty clear that New Zealanders are getting worried about the future of their beautiful natural environment and how that will affect the tourism industry. My shuttle driver told me that I was lucky because fog had delayed all helicopter rides while I was hiking but usually they go by as often as every three minutes and have become a common complaint of visiting tourists since 2010 when you could no longer access the glacier by foot.

The drive to Queenstown was long but beautiful. Our driver and his friend had a youttube channel about tourism in Queenstown so made a couple of really nice photo op pit stops.

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Finally got to Queenstown and had time for a quick walk around the town. The village is very cute–kinda like an interwest village but more authentic. The surrounding hills are filled with $1M++ beautiful homes.

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Had a little chuckle when I saw this–a bar charging $20 cover for their “arctic bar” held at -5 degrees, complete with heavy parka rental upon entry. They don’t even know the half of it.

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