Thursday, May 14, 2015

No Stopping: Falling Rocks

The parking lot is somewhere way beyond that last bend!
We have seen those words on signs in many places. Along the winding hilly mountainous roads they are frequent reminders. You can see where they are attempting to hold back or catch the rocks before they make it to the highway. However, when the sign refers to a position on a tramping route, how does one protect the human body from falling rocks?

I love that the signage is in both English and Maori.
After celebrating our bounty from hunting and gathering in Hokitika at the jade stores, we were off to see the New Zealand Glaciers about 150 km south of Hokitika. These are the highlights of the West Coast of NZ. Both the Fox and the Franz Joseph Glaciers (Waiau) are unusual as this is the only place in the world where the glaciers descend this far down into the rainforest area. They have come down the Southern Alps to a mere 7.5 miles from the sea. These are the premier glaciers in the area, but there are sixty some in New Zealand.

At the face of the Fox Glacier.
The glaciers rest between two mountains so they taper down to two narrow valleys. Unfortunately, they are advancing at a rapid rate and huge chunks of ices are breaking off the terminal faces and floating downstream during floods. The Franz Joseph Glacier plunges 8,859 feet from the alpine peaks to just 984 feet above sea level at the terminal face.
Yea! Right! Not!
Of course, there is a legend about the glaciers. A beautiful young woman, Hinehukatere, loved the mountains so much that she encouraged her lover, Tawe, to climb alongside her. He fell to his death and Hinehukatere cried so copiously that her tears formed the glaciers, known to the Maori as Ka Riomata o Hinehukatere or “The Tears of the Avalanche Girl.”

There are several ways to view the terminal faces of the glaciers: helicopter or airplane (very expensive), guided tours (i.e., long hikes) or tramping on your own and kayaking. Some of the hikes are 3-4 miles and mostly uphill. This is where we saw the signs: No Stopping: Falling Rocks!

A view of the shoreline at the Blue Pools
Well, let me tell you I did not heed the signs! It was matter of possibly being killed by falling rocks or dying from lack of oxygen or a heart attack! Although it was a fairly steady and not too steep of an incline, the hike up to the face of the Fox Glacier was long and strenuous. The sign usually appeared just as I was approaching the steepest sections and needed a rest. Timing is everything. Or is it location, location, location? About that time I was wishing I had taken the heli-hike where you fly to the top of the glacier and get out on the top. I only needed to hike on glacier.

The water is so pristine and blue.
It was welcome relief to be back in the car heading to Haast. This is the last town before you head east crossing the 150 km long Haast Pass to Wanaka. This transalpine route from the west side of the Southern Alps to the east side is the only crossing in the area. It is lower than Arthur’s Pass and is the furthest south of the three transalpine routes. It is good to make this drive early in the day as it is somewhat slow and tiresome until the road straightens out.

Selfie: Our shadows from the bridge!
There is little of interest in between except for the Blue Pools at the mouth of the Haast River where the water is so pure and icy cold that it appears aquamarine in color and you can see all the way to the bottom. The reflection of the pristine water off the rocks on the bottom give it the name Blue Pools. To get to it, there are three swinging footbridges to cross and a couple of hikes through the rainforest. From here, once you cross the divide, the rainforest turns into parched, rolling grasslands of the central area.

And about the mouse: he is still with us! We have brushed away his turds - YUCK! I put an Oreo cookie in a baggie and placed it on the floor of the driver's side. When I checked it before leaving Haast, I noticed that the cookie was missing! Hummmmm!

Hiking through the forest to the swinging bridges.
I asked Larry to see if the baggie was under the seat (I sure was not about to stick my hand under there!) Well, he found the bag minus the cookie. our little "friend" is getting further and further from his home in Arthur's Pass. Vicki and I are not happy!!!

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