Catch-up- West Coast
There are a number of walks that leave from the Franz Josef Glacier car park, including of course the main attraction, to the Glacier itself. On what turned out to be our last sunny afternoon (the weather packed up and so did we), I returned to walk a couple of the shorter tracks.
The first walk was to Peters Pool, a short 1.2km return walk. It's a lovely walk through beautiful luxuriant green rainforest with the occasional view of the glacier valley and the mountains behind.
With most visitors walking the glacier track, I had this one to myself and was able to take my time, enjoying the bird life along the way...
...and stopping often to take photos of the many different mosses, lichen, fungi and berries growing in the damp understory and along the moss covered banks.
Peters Pool is another Kettle Lake just like Lake Matheson. There are numerous kettle lakes around the valley, left behind by the retreating glacier hundreds of years ago. Large blocks of slower melting ice left huge depressions in the valley floor. Kettle lakes have no inlets or outlets and are basically just great big puddles filled by the rain (of which there is plenty) and evaporated by the sun. Eventually the kettle lakes (especially these smaller ones) will disappear as vegetation grows in from the sides, and peat and mud naturally fill the depressions.
And here is the reason Peters Pool is a popular walk. Just like it's big sister, Lake Matheson, the reflections of the mountains behind are magnificent. The pool is named after a 9 year old boy, Peter Westland, who camped here all by himself in 1894. Of course back then the glacier was in full view, reaching around the corner with the terminal face right at the back of the lake. Of course the forest has since re-generated too.
A group of foreign tourists (English speaking) arrived as I was taking photos, they got all excited about the birds they could see across the pool sitting on the grass mounds at the edge (right hand side).
I tried to keep a straight face as they turned to me and asked if they were Kiwi!
I carried on further down the path thinking that it might have looped back around to the Sentinel Rock Walk, the other short walk I intended to do, but it joined the Roberts Point Track and a walking track back to the Franz Josef Village.
Roberts Point Track started on the other side of the swingbridge across the Waiho River, which contains ice melt from Franz Josef Glacier and the contents of the many waterfalls that cascade down the mountain sides along the valley.
I crossed to the otherside and could see straight away why the Roberts Point Track is classed for experienced trampers only. The track was narrow, muddy and very rocky and that was just the first few metres along the edge of the river.
It then climbed steadily up and along the valley wall towards the glacier where the views are meant to be stunning, looking out over the surrounding mountains and down over the glacial ice. There's another large warning sign (there's one back at the carpark) clearly pointing out that this is a difficult track and that trampers have in the past lost their lives by not following the guidelines.
It's a 5-6 hour return tramp and you need to allow enough day-light hours for the walk. Something I'm not so sure my 'kiwi spotting' group took any notice of. They disappeared up the track as I returned across the bridge; half of them wearing trainers and carrying no backpacks. I took these photos at 1:30pm.
I retraced my steps back past Peters Pool to the carpark and then took another track to the Sentinel Rock lookout. It's a short 20 minute steady climb to the rock platform...
...where the views are pretty impressive looking up the river valley to the glacier.
Sentinel Rock emerged from the glacier in 1865 (not that long ago in the scheme of things), it's an example of how the glacial ice ground the schist bedrock into a Rouche moutonee or 'sheep rock'.
Since 1909 the glacier has retreated over 3kms...
Here on the information panel the glacier retreat over the years can be clearly seen, there was even a lake at the terminal face for 10 years from 1939-49 (remember to click on the photo to enlarge)...
From the lookout platform I can see across the river to one of the swingbridges on the Roberts Point Track (I've zoomed in here), and guess what? My 'kiwi spotting' group have just crossed it and are disappearing into the bush. You might be able to see the bridge in the photo, 4 above, down low, in the dark valley, just above the bottom step rail. They still have a long way to go.
I return to the carpark and take a few more photos on the way back home, the Waiho River bailey bridge is always a good subject.
And just behind where I'm standing to take the bridge photo is another photogenic subject; the historic St James Anglican Church, tucked into rainforest and located on the banks of the river.
Opened in 1931, the church's altar window took in the panoramic view of the glacier- see bottom left photo (as a previous stamp collector this is another familiar sight for me, there's a 1946 postage stamp depicting the view). By 1954 the glacier had disappeared from the view.
I found the foundation stone very interesting- I wonder if anyone else has spotted the significance? (see below for an answer)
Here's another sister church to Our Lady of the River at Jacobs River and Our Lady of the Snows at Fox Glacier, this is the third in the series- Our Lady of the Alps (one more to come).
And the significance of the foundation stone? The date the stone was laid; the 3rd of February, 1931.
While the Governor General, Baron Bledisloe, was conducting formalities and laying the stone, my home city Napier, was being destroyed by a massive earthquake.