Ice Ice Baby!!!

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We left Hari Hari this morning and headed down to the Franz Josef Glacier. I was very happy because I finally found the adapter for my mp3 player, which meant we could listen to it through the van speakers and we wouldn't have to fight with the crappy radio reception anymore. It was a very surreal feeling driving down to the Franz because this next section of the trip is something which we have been looking forward to since the very early days on us planning this trip and one of the principle reasons for us deciding to come to New Zealand. The Franz Josef Glacier is a huge glacier which sits in a valley along the west coast- imagine two mountains sat next to each other like two pyramids side by side, and then ice filling the V section which is created inbetween the gap. Quite unbelievably, you can walk right up the front of the glacier and there are even tour guides that can take you climbing up on to the ice. Since the first day we decided to come to New Zealand we have both been desperate to get on to the glacier and, in a way, all the walks and hikes we done so far have been in preparation for climbing the Franz Josef. About half an hour further south of Franz is another glacier called the Fox Glacier, which is longer than Franz but not quite as spectacular (if that is possible!) and we had already decided that we would sign ourselves up to the Franz guided hike. On the drive down we realised that our time in New Zealand so far had been building towards these next few days... and we were so excited! We arrived in the Franz Josef Village at about lunchtime and headed straight for the tourist info centre to book our glacier hike. Now Tom and I have a very special day approaching on Friday... it's our 8 year anniversary, so we decided that wouldn't be a better way to celebrate our anniversary than to go on our Franz Josef hike! We booked ourselves on for 10:30am on Friday and went for a look around town... which took all of thirty seconds... there are only about 3 shops and a petrol station here! Feeling fired up from booking our trip we couldn't wait until Friday to see the glacier, so we drove out to it to have a look around. The glacier itself is about 5 minutes south of the town and then another 5 minute inland; as we crossed onto the road which headed inland I saw my first glimpse of the glacier... a flash of torquoise blue through the forest in the distance. I nearly jumped out of my seat! At the end of the road is a carpark and then there is a 10 minute bush walk to get to the end of the viewing platform. When we arrived at the carpark we bumped into a family from California which seem to have been following us around New Zealand! We have bumped into this family about 5 times in the last 2 weeks and have got to know them quite well as we seem to always end up at the same campsites and attractions as them. So after a quick chat with them we headed off. As we walked through the forest we went past some streams which lead off the glacier; the water was absolutely crystal clear. The water was so clear in fact that it didn't even have the normal blue colour which all the rivers in New Zealand have had so far, it was so transparent and colourless that it looked like a sheet of glass across the riverbed rather than water. In the surrounding mountains there were dozens of waterfalls which fell from the peaks of the glacier and fed the river which lay along the valley floor. Normally you can walk right on to the huge valley floor which leads up to the glacier, but today it was closed because of flooding so we could only get about 1500 meters in front of the glacier. We walked through the bush and came out on to a clearing and then around a small corner was the viewing area. From here you could see the glacier spread out in front of you. As we turned the corner and saw it for the first time I felt my heart skip a beat. It was utterly magnificant. I don't possess the words to describe how it felt to be stood there looking at the Franz Josef Glacier nestled inbetween the lush rainforst and mountains. I stood with my hands to my face and before I knew what was happening I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks. I could not believe that after all the planning, worrying and preparations we were finally stood before the glacier. We'd made it! It was such an immense feeling that it made you feel completely tiny. We stayed for quite a while and then headed to another viewing platform to get some more photos. Afterwards, as we were walking back to the carpark, it hit me what a huge undertaking it would be to climb the glacier. Feeling quite anxious, we both knew that our hike on Friday was going to be one of th biggest challenges either of us had ever faced and I in particular was worried I wouldn't be fit enough. Once we got back to the van we decided to drive straight over to the Fox Glacier to see that one too. It took about half an hour and when we got there we were met by the same family from California again (!) a very cheeky Kea. The Kea is the world's only alpine parrot and only lives in these parts of the rainforest in New Zealand, so we were very lucky to see one. They can be quite mischievious though and our little Kea trotted over and sat about a foot away from me and, as I bent down to take its photo, and it just sat there looking at me with its head on one side. It was a beautiful big fat green bird, with a cheeky look in its eye. I think it would have had my camera given half the chance! We started the walk out to the Fox Glacier and, again, it was absolutley amazing. Not as steep as the Franz, the Fox Glacier it slightly longer and as there was no flooding here we were able to get right up to the front of it. It was unbelievably big and beneath the dirt on the outlayer of ice you could see bright blue streaks underneath the surface. We stayed for an hour or so and then headed back. Whilst the Fox Glacier was stunning, we knew we had made to right decision by hiking the Franz... the Franz just took your breath away in a way that the Fox didn't. We stayed the night in another DoC camp on the outskirts of town and I learnt how to skim stones on the lake. The lake was so still that when we threw stones into it the ripples spread out endlessly and you could practically count the rings on the ripples. It was like being kids again as we spent all evening throwing stones into the lake and seeing what different musical notes we could make by throwing big and little rocks in, it was a fantastic end to a brilliant day!   
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