Walks around the Glacier

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Friday, July 15, 2005

The weather was atrocious on the journey to Franz Josef. On the way, the coach driver played a video about glaciers and how they are formed, so that made the trip interesting. I was certainly excited about seeing the glaciers up close, as I found it an interesting topic when I studied GCSE Geography (a long time ago!). If I'd known back then that I'd soon be standing on top of one, I'd have payed more attention in class!

I got soaking wet just walking from the bus to my hostel in Franz, but Glow Worm Cottages seemed like another nice place. Lots of people had recommended it to me, and I wasn't disappointed, particularly when I bumped into Sue (a woman I'd met in Nelson) and enjoyed chatting to her for a couple of hours. I braved the rain to nip down to the local restaurant for some chicken nuggets and chips (and a quick pint!), but my first night was basically spent chilling out.

For once, the weather forecasters had got it spot on, as they had correctly predicted that there would be more rain the next day. I wasn't too disheartened though, as they also predicted a fine spell would hit the South Island after this. I decided to get a shuttle bus to the glacier in the afternoon, as I was desperate to get a glimpse of it, even at the cost of getting wet. As it happened, the shuttle driver provided huge umbrellas that prevented a repeat of the Abel Tasman fiasco!

I did the 90 minute return walk with Steve and Becky from the hostel, and despite the clouds, the glacier was an awesome sight. In fact, the rain created spectacular waterfalls along the glacier valley, which no doubt added to the experience. We walked right up to the glacier terminal, but the only way of actually getting on the ice is with an experienced tour guide.

That night Steve and I were joined by Shinya, and we went to the Blue Ice Cafe for a few beers. I seem to get on really well with Japanese people, and it was fun to hear of his experiences on the South Island which included doing the Nevis bungy jump, and the famous Milford Track. Steve was also a nice guy from England who was doing a heli-hike the next day, which did look exciting but I wanted to do the full day hike on the Fox Glacier instead.

A quick look outside the next morning caused great excitement, as the clear blue skies brought the snow covered peaks into view for the first time. This was perfect weather for doing some walking around the glacier, so I immediately booked myself onto the shuttle bus at 10.45am. My plan was to do part of the Glacier Valley Walk again, as the views would be so much clearer this time. I also wanted to do a quick 20 minute return walk to Sentinel Rock, before attempting the 5 hour Roberts Point Track.

The initial walks did indeed bring sublime views of the glacier, including an amazing reflective view from Peter's Pool. The Roberts Point Track was pretty tough, particularly on the outward journey, as there were lots of climbs. The rocky track and numerous swingbridges gave it a real Indiana Jones feel, which is much more enjoyable than when the track is flat and well-defined. However, I found myself on my backside more than half a dozen times, as it was especially slippy in places. I only saw a few people on this track, but the fact that one of them also slipped over when passing me proved that my clumsiness wasn't the only contributory factor to my bruised bottom!

The views from Roberts Point were breathtaking, as I was literally directly above the glacier. Unfortunately it had clouded over a little bit so I couldn't see the mountain peaks, but I could virtually see the whole glacier and it was a great sight. I could see tiny groups of people walking on the ice, and occasionally helicopters flew by and dropped tour groups off further up the glacier. I spent about 45 minutes alone at the viewpoint, just observing the goings on from afar, and generally just taking in the glacier's beauty.

It was close to 5pm when I got back to Glow Worm Cottages, and I was more than ready for a good helping of beans on toast! Various people shared their experiences of the day walks with me, Shinya included, and everyone seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed it. I played pool with Shinya for the rest of the night, and he later surprised me when he produced two pints of beer - he'd bought them from the local pub and brought them back to the hostel! He tried to teach me some Japanese, and I did have a play with his electronic translator, but it was difficult! We exchanged email addresses so hopefully we'll meet again when I go to Japan.

My first sighting of a glacier had been superb, now I was looking forward to getting even closer to the ice at Fox Glacier...
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