Fox Glacier

(back to Punakaiki)

Friday, March 17, 2006 (continued)

After leaving Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, I continued down the west coast to a town called Fox Glacier. I got there just before dinner time - just in time to book a glacier hike for early the next morning. I still didn't have an alarm clock, and it was a REALLY early start so I had to buy one in the gift shop.

While I was in Whakatane, Kris mentioned this was the night that New Zealand was going to change it's clocks for daylight savings time. When I booked the hike, I asked them about the time change to be sure I would be on time. The time change could've been any of the past three days and I wouldn't have noticed because I wasn't looking at clocks, or even calendars... which was rather nice. Anyway, I didn't want to be late for the bus to the glacier, so I checked with them to be sure. At first they looked at me like I was nuts, most of them were seasonal workers from other countries themselves and weren't aware. But they checked in back and it turned out the time change was that night. They were a bit nervous because that meant they had booked a whole bunch of people who may or may not know about the time change because they were tourist too. Oh well... I knew I would be okay.

I bought some groceries and went back to the campground to cook (microwave) some dinner. On the kitchen door was a sign about keas, how they were a nuisance at night, and to not leave out anything rubber because they WILL eat it. I made a mental note to not leave my flipflops outside my tent and carried on with my evening without thinking much of it....

I was sitting in my tent, reading a book trying to make the most of the dying daylight, when I heard something flutter and thump onto the roof of my car outside. I remembered I'd left the trunk open and went out to close it... and a large green bird that looked like a parrot was sitting on top of the stuff that was in my trunk, as if he owned it. I shooed him away, and he wasn't easily shooed. As I closed the trunk I noticed a guy was standing close to me, he had come over to shoo away the kea too. I don't think he spoke much English, because he just said "pests". I smiled and nodded in agreement. I looked around and there were quite a few of the birds walking around the campground. They had come out suddenly all at once. And the occasional squawking was SO loud... so THESE were the keas. They were intimidating because they were large and seemed to know no fear...

After that I quickly got myself organized for the night... brushed my teeth, organized myself for the next morning, got in my tent, zipped it shut and was thankful to be away from them. It was difficult to sleep that night because every now and again (throughout the night) they would squawk to their buddy across the campground and the buddy would reply. They woke me up even with earplugs in, it was THAT loud. And I jumped awake when they squawked right by my tent. To the right is a photo from a postcard (Copyright: Craig Potton Publishing) that shows just how pesky keas can be!

At one point in the night, I was woken up by a picking noise right by my head... something was picking at my tent. That had happened in other campgrounds when bugs got trapped between the tent wall and the rainfly (another piece of fabric that goes over the tent to keep rain from accumulating and getting into the tent). I usually don't mind bugs climbing on my tent because they can't get to me. But if they make noise, I try to get them out without killing them. So I lightly fwapped the inside of my tent with the back of my hand in the area of the picking, but then a few second later the picking started again, so I fwapped a bit harder and felt my hand connect with a significant body - it was not a bug! He stopped picking at my tent after that. But then a few moments later I heard him picking at the tent next to me. Those campers fwapped, and cursed, and discussed what to do (at least I imagine that's what they were talking about, they were speaking another language) and finally I heard someone get out of the tent (zip, zip, zip of the tent door) and fumble with something - I think they took off the rainfly (it must've been made of rubber) and put it in their van. Everyone else in the campground was in RVs, so I think the keas focused on us tenters. SO ANNOYING!! I didn't sleep well at all...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I still managed to get up on time for the glacier hike despite a lack of sleep. I could've waited to pack up until after the glacier hike, but I couldn't wait to get out of that campground and away from the dang keas. I packed up my tent wet and vamoosed, parking on the street instead.

The hike on Fox Glacier was one of the highlights of the trip. To the left is a photo from a postcard (Copyright: Colourview Publications 2004 Ltd.). I added the red arrows so you could have a better idea of what exactly a glacier is. Glacier are formed by snow being pressed into a special kind of ice that is bluish in color because the pressure has pushed out the oxygen. This glacier was slowly moving downward towards the sea at the time I hiked on it... a few feet a day which is actually quite fast in glacial time frames. There were airplane rides you could take to view the glacier from the sky, and there were helicopter rides that took you up and dropped you off higher up on the glacier for a short walk and then brought you back down, but they were both pretty expensive. A short hike was going to be enough for me, considering my aching arches. I just wanted to get ON a glacier.

New Zealand has about 2,000 glaciers. Many of these are unusually close to the ocean, and are VERY easy to access. We just had a 15-20 bus ride and we were at the base of the glacier. The photo above only shows the top half of the glacier, the glacier continues down in the direction of the arrows for a significant distance. Our group hiked through forest along the base (not shown in the above photo) only about a half mile or mile up. Then we went out onto the glacier for a while, then hiked back down through the forest.

When we had gotten up a little ways into the forest, we turned around and saw the glacier river that went on to the ocean not far away. This glacier was melting as well as moving. To the right is a photo I took of the glacier's river valley. See how foggy it is? It was rainy on this day. To be honest I was very uncomfortable - cold, tired, wet, my arches still hurt so it was hard to find my footing without pain... but I was on a glacier! So it was okay. :-)

There were two INCREDIBLY obnoxious American teenagers in our group that kept talking - even shouting during the trip. They were driving everyone nuts and they embarrassed the heck out of me as the only other American in the group... Here we all were paying about $45 a head for a serene, once-in-a-lifetime experience to see one of nature's most impressive processes at work... and these two American teenagers are having sword fights with the poles they gave us to use to help keep our footing on the ice... "Player 1!... Game Over!" at the top of his lungs. At one point I heard the teenage girl say to the other teenager "Everyone hates us.. isn't that awesome?" Whatever... grow up.

Anyway, I wanted to hear everything Chris (our guide in the photo to the left) had to say. So I left the obnoxious teenagers at the end of the pack and stayed close to the front with Chris... everyone else was trying to do the same, so it required some strategic jockeying for position. I managed to get some really nice conversation with Chris about glaciers... and life in general. I also had an excellent conversation with a British woman, Lynne, on the way back - she was there with her husband and two kids.

At one point, Chris invited us to climb up to a large hole in the ice that formed a tunnel, take hold of a rope and slide down through the tunnel back to the group. I almost didn't do it, because I felt very awkward on the ice - my arches still hurt alot making each little slip of footing was very painful, and slips were inevitable... I was on ice. But I decided to just do it anyway... when would I have another chance? It was a bumpy ride down through the tunnel, and I got really wet as I went through... but it was cool. :-)

Here are a couple more photos taken during my time on the glacier. The first is of me, the second it just of the ice. The person in the second photo isn't me, but those are the poles we used. We also wore crampons (special devices that clipped-on to our shoes to help us grip the ice).


(on to Wanaka)