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Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Unforgettable New Zealand (Part 3): From Lake Wanaka to Frans Jozef Glacier

Do you ever watch one of the most popular movie of all time, the Lords of the Rings (LOTR)? The movie was made in many places all over New Zealand. And here we were standing in front of Lake Wanaka facing The Southern Alps, doubled as The Misty Mountains that surrounded Rivendell in The LOTR movie. The backdrop that was used when the great eagle, Gwaihir, rescued Gandalf from the tower of Orthanc. It felt awesome!

Lake Wanaka and a tree.
The Wanaka town has a friendly ambience with plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. The town is not as crowded as Queenstown so if you need a more peaceful place to relax, stay in Wanaka is a good option. At the west park of Lake Wanaka, there is Mount Aspiring National Park, a wonderful mixture of forest, high mountain and beautiful valley. It is a hiker's paradise. If you stay overnight in Wanaka, you can go hiking or biking to the Blue Pools or Rob Roy Glacier. Unfortunately we just stayed for 1-2 hours in Wanaka before we continued driving to West Coast, hence we didn't do hiking or biking. After taking our lunch, we spent sometimes to take pictures and enjoyed the scenery beside the lake.

We took some pictures of Lake Wanaka with the mountain and the tree that is located beside the Lake. We never heard about Wanaka Tree when we visited Lake Wanaka 8 years ago. I just heard about That Wanaka Tree, the most photographed tree in New Zealand, last year when I joined Instagram. Type hashtag #thatwanakatree and you will find thousands of amazing pictures of the crack willow tree beside Lake Wanaka taken especially during sunrise or sunset. I check again my old picture just in case I took the picture of That Wanaka Tree accidentally, but I guess the one in my picture is not that famous tree, so I should have called it #notthatwanakatree.

In front of Lake Wanaka.

That Wanaka Tree by Stoked for Saturday (

The beautiful garden beside Lake Wanaka.

The snowfall started when we left Lake Wanaka and headed to the West by passing Haast Pass, a mountain pass at an elevation of 564m above sea level. It's one of the most beautiful alpine scenic routes in New Zealand. The drive passes through a spectacular view and offers various landscapes of rainforest, wetlands, lakes and rivers. However, it is also quite dangerous due to heavy wind and some sharp curves along the way. The condition was more challenging when we passed by because there was heavy snowfall and the road was full of snow and very slippery. We even stopped and stood at the roadside for a while because we were worried about the road condition. And we were not the only one who stopped. There were other cars who were doing the same.

The snowy and slippery road of Haast Pass.

The problem was we did not have any snow chains with us. Snow chains or tires chains can provide maximum traction when driving through snow or ice. But even if we have snow chains, we did not know how to put them on the car tires. We never thought we would face this problem. We were stuck in the middle of the mountain road while the time passed by. For sure we could not wait until the evening came as it would be even more challenging to drive in the night. Finally my friend Dewi had a great idea. She drove behind the caravan that had snow chains. The caravan swept aside the snow in front of us so our car could pass the street without heavy snow. She maintained the distance with the caravan, not too close but also not too far.

That caravan!

As we drove slowly, we saw many big trees on our left and right sides. Not sure what the name was, but they looked like pine trees. After ages of driving, we finally reached Fox Glacier Township. We took a long breath when we arrived there. We finally passed the most difficult road safely. Thank God.

We've booked a hostel room in Fox Glacier Township. It was a small hostel but nice. The most important thing was, the hotel had a room heater. We needed it badly after facing a cold weather and snow the whole day. We had a very good rest before continuing our journey on the following day to Franz Josef Glacier.

We woke up early in the morning to go directly to the tour company who would guide us to Franz Josef Glacier. They provided us special gears to climb up the glacier, including the jacket and the boots. When we went there in 2010, we still could walk to the first ice fall of the glacier. However, since April 2012, it seems like we need to take the helicopter instead.

The guided walk to Franz Josef Glacier was tough. Half way to the first ice fall, I almost fainted. Perhaps it was due to lack of exercise. I just felt dizzy and breathless as I climbed. Come to think of it, I really salute the tour leader of our group, a young woman, who did the climbing almost every day. She was very fit. I eventually reached the first ice fall of the glacier and, yeah, I did it! I am glad I did it when I was still young and single. I am not sure if I still have energy to do it again now, after having two kids.

Climbing Franz Josef Glacier.

Up there, it was the most awesome glacier experience we ever had! Exploring the ice formation, feeling the ice and snow. We were freezing but very excited as well. It's a one in a lifetime experience. If you have a chance to visit the South Island of New Zealand, don't miss it!

The passage of Franz Josef Glacier. 

When we came down from the glacier, our tour guide explained that Franz Joseph Glacier has a cyclic pattern of advance and retreat, driven by differences between the volume of meltwater at the foot of the glacier and volume of snow fall. Since 2008 Franz Joseph Glacier is in the period of retreat and the length keep decreasing. We waited for few minutes to see whether there are any changes in the landscape but nothing happened. 

We came back to Fox Glacier township in the afternoon. Feeling tired after glacier climbing, I actually just wanted to go back to our hostel and took a rest, but my friend wanted to visit Lake Matheson that is located just 6km west of the Fox Glacier town. So we drove our car, following the signboard till we arrived at the cafe right at the beginning of the trail. We saw a group of cows before we walked through the native rainforest, passing the bridge and reaching the Jetty View Point. 

Lake Matheson is one of the most photographed lake in New Zealand because of its mirror reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman on a calm, clear day. The landscape frequently appears on the postcards, chocolate boxes and calendars. It was unfortunate that when we were there, it was cloudy and rainy. We could barely see the reflection of the mountains on the lake. Once again we learnt that weather and lightning are very important for good photos. You need to have a bright sunny day and clear sky to produce a good photo of Lake Matheson as you see it on the postcard. The weather can make a huge difference. Just see these below photos.
Lake Matheson on a cloudy day.

Lake Matheson on a clear day (from

Due to the weather, we decided to return to the car park after we reached Jetty Point. It was a tiring but fun day. We dozed off quickly as it was time to recharge our energy and get ready for another journey to the west. Next: the final leg of our New Zealand road trip!

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