March 19, 2010
Last night wasn’t a particularly late one so we decided to get up fairly early this morning and head straight on to our next stop. I had done a lot of driving of late so I was hoping to get to our hostel at the Franz Josef township around lunchtime and spend the afternoon doing something a little more relaxing.
The drive was around two hours and was actually nice and easy although some of the more windy sections of the road made Elizabeth feel a little queasy again. We had one brief stop at a gorgeous lake called Lake Ianthe to take some pictures and stretch the legs. It was here we found out that the boot of the car was leaking and some of our bags were wet. After the crap we had from the car hire company about a missing piece of rubber they wanted to charge us for, we now had a car that leaked. Great.
We soon got to Franz Josef though and into the YHA. We couldn’t check in immediately so we headed for the supermarket to buy some provisions. We had cooked up, not yet literally, a couple of ways to use up our excess cheese and so for lunch we had homemade pizzas using around half of our remaining gouda, Colby and Camembert cheeses as well as some of the chilli jam we got in Marlborough. For such a thrown together meal, the pizzas were really good although we stuffed ourselves with them.
Not wanting to do nothing all afternoon, we headed to the Franz Josef Glacier itself. It was on the way to here I noticed that one of the tyres was flat. It wasn’t too bad so I didn’t bother sorting it out now but I’ll have to check it again in the morning before we head to Fox Glacier for the day.
At the glacier, we chose to take the walking trail up to the face of the glacier. It was so cool walking through the glacial valley and seeing all the huge rocks which the glacier had dumped in the past as it advanced and retreated down the valley. The walk up to the glacier was a nice, gentle stroll and provided some amazing views with small waterfalls cascading over the valley walls, small streams flowing along the floor and, in the distance, the terminal face of the glacier itself. Up closer, it was huge and the face was covered in dirt and rocks, making it look really messy. Hopefully tomorrow we will get to go further up the glaciers and see the brilliant clear ice that makes up the main body of the glacier.
On the way back we stopped at the information site and had a wonder around before heading back to the hostel and changing our itinerary again. We hadn’t originally decided to go too far south along the west coast but having looked at what we wanted to do along the east coast we decided we’d rather drop in an extra night here so we could visit Milford Sound. After a few emails, we were all set and all switched around. We’d had a flight changed on us too which originally meant losing a day in Christchurch but now we’ve made this change we get that day back!
For dinner, we finally rid ourselves of the cheese! We bought a load of vegetables and boiled them up and covered them in a cheesy sauce and some homemade croutons (made using our Tuscan oil). It wasn’t the greatest meal we’ve ever had but at least I feel we’re nearly at the end of the cheese – only the leftovers to consume tomorrow and we’re done! Accompanied by one of our wine purchases, anything can be edible!
March 20, 2010
Today was one of most expensive days of our entire trip but it was a great day. We had booked to go on a heli-hike on the Fox Glacier. We headed off to the Fox Township early in the morning and arrived at the tour centre in plenty of time. We had been told to bring plenty of clothing so we had our thermals on, a thick pair of trousers and plenty of layers up top. We even bought along our gloves and hats and were glad we did later on. At the tour office we were given waterproofs and Elizabeth got an extra fleece in case she needed it. A quick bus ride and we were at the helicopter pad. Here we were given some warm socks and proper hiking boots.
After that we loaded up into the helicopter which took us up onto the glacier, looping around one the amazing waterfalls and around one of the deep holes in the ice. When we landed on the glacier we were equipped with crampons to help grip the ice and walking poles. Quite honestly, my walking pole just annoyed me and got in the way while I tried to take pictures!
The walk up the ice was really cool but quite slow going as the guide had to dig out new steps for us. The glacier here moves 5 metres down the valley every day due to the weight of ice at the top and the incline of the mountain. The section we were on was around 350 metres deep but at the top the ice was around 600 metres deep! The region gets around 50-60 metres of fresh snow each year and the compacted weight of this just adds to the glacial flow down the valley.
In the ice there were many holes which are caused by flowing water or dirt caught in the ice. The result can be long holes and crevices which can go right through the glacier. We found one such hole which actually ran along the ice and had formed a really cool tunnel. After our guide had a dig around we were able to go inside it and actually climb through the small opening at the end, sliding across the exiting ice to do so. One girl decided she couldn’t get through the gap and all of us behind her had to reverse to let her out before we all headed back in again. Apart from one older couple who didn’t want to go through the tunnel, this girl was the only one who didn’t go through it. As with all tours, we had our compliment of Asians and even the annoying girl with them went through it. It wasn’t difficult but it did have a big step down near the end into some ankle-deep, cold water. If I’d have been directly behind her I’d have probably just shoved her down! Anyway, inside the tunnel the ice was so clear and blue, the crystals making up the ice clearly showing.
The blue spots of clear, hard ice inside the tunnels and holes was awesome to see, especially as much of the ice on the surface was quite dirty from the rocks and dirt that has blown from the valley sides.
The walk back down to the helipad was much quicker than going up although half the group seemed intent on going as slowly as possible. By this point it had started raining and I just wanted to get down to the bottom before I got drenched. I was glad of the waterproof jacket provided by the tour company when we went through the tunnel and was even more so now! Thankfully, it wasn’t very heavy but was just persistent drizzle.
The helicopter ride down to the bottom was quick and easy but the view was almost non-existent now as the weather had really closed in, the clouds covering all the surrounding peaks and blocking any chance of seeing the nearby coastline.
After a stop at the petrol station to fill the dodgy tyre up with some air, we headed back to Franz Josef. The drive is about 30 minutes and it goes through some wonderful valleys with a few bridges and streams running through. I can see how people say the south island is more picturesque than the north but for me it is just totally different, both equally beautiful in their own ways.
Back at the hostel we warmed up on some soup and an interesting pizza bread type thing I made using some ingredients left over from yesterday (tomato paste, pesto and chilli jam on a pizza base).
After that we just lazed around and relaxed. We had planned on going out to one of the local thermal pools this afternoon but having found out it was over $30 each we decided to pass and just relax in our warm bed instead!