Excited about our first kayaking adventure in the Okarito lagoon we showed up at the operator’s site in the morning just like the website had advised – only to discover they were closed for the day. Unhappy we’d gotten up extra early and taken a significant detour to get there, we still decided to not let them ruin our day and turned back towards Lake Matheson to complete a loop around the lake, the highlight of which is the alleged “View of Views” when Aoraki/ Mt Cook and Mt Tasman are mirrored on the tannin-saturated waters of the lake.
I’ve walked around this particular lake 4 times now, at different times of the day, and never seen that particular reflection. It’s still well worth the leg stretch though, especially when you’re all by yourselves like we were. The lake was serene in the pre-noon hours, the mirror-like surface only disturbed by the occasional duck.
I had read of a black sanded beach – Gillespie Beach – not far away and off we went. The last 10km of the drive were on a tight, unsealed road and I was constantly afraid of some crazy tourist taking a corner to fast and crashing into us – which almost happened. When we finally got to the beach we couldn’t find any black sand but nevertheless stood to watch the waves for a while before turning back to avoid the sandflies getting the better of us.
There was still time to visit Fox Glacier. We parked the car and walked as far as we could (until the path was roped off). I was pretty astounded by how far the glacier had receded over the last 6 years. Mr A once more got very excited by the blue ice which he found to be much bluer than any other glacier he’d seen before.
The next day, we went to Franz Josef glacier for a morning walk before travelling north towards Punakaiki.
While the lack of ice at Fox was astounding, the extent to which Franz Josef glacier has retreated was simply sobering. Whereas one could still book glacier walks entering the ice from the bottom of the glacier (like I did) in 2003, nowadays the only way to actually get to the ice is taking a helicopter flight including an ice landing because the ice at the bottom has become unstable making it too dangerous to approach it beyond the lookout poing. Therefore, the soundtrack of FJ is approximately that of a NATO air base – the humming of helicopters is constant, like swarms of bees hovering above.
After this reality check, we hit the road north again. First, though, coffee.