We got changed in the car park, four layers on top and no jeans were the stipulations so out came the thermals and ladies tights again (for Andrew of course)
. We got to the Franz Josef Guided Tour office and checked in and then went through the process of getting togged up in water proof pants, coat, hats, gloves, socks, boots and a bum bag containing a set of crampons – yes the day had come that I would be wearing a pair of roller skates again but this time without wheels and with spikes. If anything was certain today it was that we were going to get very, very wet. We boarded the bus and it took us 10 minutes to get to the glacier car park – from here it was a 2km walk over shale to the glacier terminal face (the bottom of it). Now maybe I am a bit naive, no don’t answer that, but I just expected a glacier to look like an iceberg. I didn’t realise that they have had such an impact in shaping the geography of the land and are essentially rivers of ice flowing between valleys, relics left over from the last ice age. What makes Franz Josef and Fox (another glacier just down the road) Glaciers so unique is their accessibility owing to the fact that despite having dramatically retreated over the past few centuries (and I mean Kilometres worth) they still flow almost to sea level and it is due to the high volume of snowfall being heavily compacted over the Southern Alps that they remain with us today.
When we arrived at the bottom of the glacier I was a bit underwhelmed, large parts of it were covered in rock and it looked dirty – yes I expected it to be immaculate pristine ice, we were later told that the ice at the bottom was about 50 years old so fair enough I’m not looking the best at 30 and I haven’t been trampled over with spiky shoes for decades – I’ve heard some people are in to that though of a weekend
. Before we went any further we were split in to groups we chose to go with group 3 as we wanted to take photographs as we went which would probably have annoyed the people in the faster groups 1 and 2. We climbed the rock (which actually acts as sun screen for the glacier) and put on our crampons then it was time to take to the ice.
Now as anyone who knows me will be fully aware, my balance is shocking at the best of times but on ice even with crampons there was a bit of the Bambi about me. We climbed the early stages of the glacier as the guide cut out steep steps for us with his ice axe stepping over holes that seemed to go very deep and were the brightest of blue. It was amazing as the further and further we climbed up the glacier the more beautiful it became – deep ravines had been naturally created when the ice had 'snapped’ and we were able to walk between the narrowest of them, thank god we hadn’t had pies for breakfast this morning. Towards the top of the section that we could climb we walked through a natural cave network which was fantastic and so blue inside we were blown away even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits at this point like it had our passports that we had left in the ruc-sac by mistake.
We stayed on the ice for a good 6 hours in total and my shoes only gave up on me and started letting in water towards the end, everything else though was soaked even though I’d had full water proof gear on
. All I can say is thank god Kiwi notes are plastic or we could have had a load drying out on the dashboard – and I only managed to keep the camera relatively dry by keeping it in my bra. We got back to the township at about 4pm and were thrilled to find free hot chocolate on tap so obviously we took full advantage and had about 4 cups each. We decided to head down to Fox Glacier township to a DOC site called Gillespie’s Beach that was totally free and Andrew cooked outside in the rain while I draped our sodden clothes on the backs of chairs and over curtain wires. A couple that we had met on the walk from South Manchester even offered us free use of their shower in their hotel, we have got making people feel sorry for us off to a fine art now, I was starting to wonder why we had declined and chosen the baby wipe seat bath option instead.
We sat in the van stinking with all the wet clothes festooned around us and had a few wines and watched the skydiving vids a few more hundred times while we listened to the rain and wind whip around the camp site – yes free camping is great but there are times when a hot bath and a washing machine compare more favourably to just a long drop composting toilet.
Andrew Edit – Another awesome day and something so different to what we had done before. Some of the ice was so blue. Perhaps the only major downer of the day was when we found our sodden wet passports in the bag and a lot of our stamps had run, oh well our only souvenirs close to destroyed, oh well we still have a blog, heaps of pictures and a blog.
The rain had been pummelling the roof of the van all night and there was no sign whatsoever of it relenting by the time we were due to get up at 7am, to be honest it was absolutely miserable but with 200 and odd rainy days a year in this neck of the woods we shouldn't really have expected anything else. It was a far cry though from the beautiful cloudless skies of the Tasman region it seemed hard to imagine that we were in the same country let alone down the same coast. We left the camp site without getting organised basically to get away from all the sand flies that had descended on us. We pulled on to the main street and Andrew must have got a few funny looks as he sat in a bus stop in the pouring rain boiling up water on the camp stove so that I could wash up after last nights tea.