The Southern Alps

Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef glacier with Pilar, Vivi & Matthieu

Franz Josef Glacier, found in the stunning Westland National Park, is one of the most spectacular glaciers in this region with ice caves, extraordinary colors of the ice-flow, pinnacles & seracs of the pristine alpine environment.  Stavros booked a heli tour + 2h hike on top of the gletsjer.  Pilar, Vivi & myself kept it simple and just hiked to the base of the gletjser.  As it was summer, the gletsjer had shrinker but we still had a pretty good view.  Stavros had a blast of course exploring the gletsjer from the inside as well.

The South-West of New Zealand is one of the great wilderness areas of the Southern hemisphere. It is an area where snow-capped mountains, rivers of ice, deep lakes, unbroken forests & tussock grasslands produce a landscape of exceptional beauty.  A good example is Lake Matheson, one of New Zealand’s most famous picture postcard scenes.  The mirror image of forest, mountains & sky has become an icon of scenic New Zealand.  Unfortunately it was clouded the day we visited Lake Matheson so we didn’t had the chance to experience it ourselves.  A German woman that we met told us how beautiful it was the day before and showed us a picture she took of the ‘reflection’.  See the difference below from the same viewpoint on a sunny day vs a grey day.

West-Coast

West-Coast

Back on the road we had great laughs in the car & my travel buddies were singing with all they got while driving  along the Southern Alps. For many New Zealanders, the Southern Alps have a power of their own.  It is the backbone, the core of the country.  When the Maori first glimpsed the snowy tops, they thought they had seen a ‘mirage in the ocean’ and not land.  They declared it ‘Ka Tiriti o te Moana’, a name that has been retained to this day.  The high peaks are often shrouded in clouds, that can take the strangest forms and even Captain James Cook failed to see them in all their glory during the first circumnavigation of the islands in 1770.  However, he saw enough to put them on the map and name them the Southern Alps.  His name is also bestowed in New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki aka Mount Cook.

Pilar @ Lake Wanaka

Pilar contemplating the funny clouds @ Lake Wanaka

The Southern Alps splits east from west, dividing people, valleys & oceans.  Nothing gets in the way of this huge barrier that is responsible for much of the weather in New Zealand.  It acts as a wall of mountains that deflects the wild storms that regularly roar in from the Tasman Sea.  The common moist westerly air currents hit the Alps forcing rain to fall on their western flank while the warmer air drives to the plains creating the frequent warm nor’westers.  We could experience this phenomenon because as we passed Haast Pass, crossing that way to the other side of the Alps, we could see how the clouds were stopped by the mountains and so we could suddenly enjoy a clear, sunny sky on the other side.  It gave the lakes a wonderful blue color and the landscapes were filled in color as well.

View from Mount Iron, Wanaka

View from Mount Iron, Wanaka

Funny clouds, unseen by me till than, filled the sky in many forms such as dots & stripes.  In this beautiful scenery we drove to Wanaka, a small town situated at the edge of lake Wanaka.  Just before sunset, we hiked Mount Iron for a 360 view of the surroundings.   Mount iron is a 545m high hill and the highest point in the immediate vicinty of Wanaka.  A great example of a ‘roche moutonee’, a hill shaped by glacial action.

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