Glacial Expedition

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Thursday, December 4, 2003

We began our four hour journey to Franz Josef on a bright, sunny morning. With the windows rolled down and the stereo turned up high, we zoomed along the twisting mountain roads, admiring the views of vivid blue lakes and emerald forests of pine.

The route was certainly a scenic one and our Lonely Planet Guide promised us interesting and beautiful walks if we were to pull over at various points along the way. This we did, and sometimes strolled through near jungle type vegetation or clambered over rocks and pebbles to look at cascading waterfalls or pretty rivers.

It was no surprise to discover that our journey had in fact taken us nearer five and a half hours by the time we reached the outskirts of Franz Josef (more winding mountain roads slowed us down too) and we had driven into a different weather system. Heavy cloud loomed low and foreboding and rain again fell in bursts.

We had pre-booked a Glacier Hike on Franz Josef for the following day and so after checking in we had a free afternoon. We relaxed for the most part, and by the latter stages of the day made the short drive to Fox Glacier in order to walk around Lake Matheson. This is reputedly the most photographed lake in New Zealand as many people come for the spectacular view of Mount Cook that is reflected in the mirror-like waters. Of course, the weather had once again conspired against us, and our twilight walk yielded a very truncated view back towards the Southern Alps!

The cloud had gathered further and so whilst we were able to enjoy our circumnavigation of Lake Matheson and stop at the various viewpoints, we could not see beyond the neighbouring field of (very noisy) cows!

We then popped into the village pub/hotel for a meal (my first roast dinner in absolute ages!) and a game of air-hockey. Since Andrea gloated over her winning of the mini-golf in Tekapo, I shall not hesitate to inform you all of my victory in this far more technical and strategic game that required a much greater degree of manual dexterity!

Carefully planning our time in the pub to coincide with the coming of the night, we walked across to the Glow-worm Grotto, where we spent a few minutes wandering around a small garden, feeling all 'Christmasy' as we admired the little green and white 'lights' of the tiny creatures (ahhh).

We were up early(ish) the next morning and made our way to the supermarket to stock up on provisions for our day out on the glacier (we had no need to buy the necessary Kendal Mint Cake thanks to Katie who provided us with some as a parting gift!). Once suitably weighed down with chocolate, cookies/cake, etc, we checked-in next door and were kitted out for a day on what was to be a rain-sodden glacier. We had a ten minute bus ride to the start of the 45 minute walk that led to the glaciers's terminal face, where we all gleefully familiarised ourselves with the ice-axes we were given!

Once we had trudged to the glacier proper, we donned our 'Talonz' in order to aid us in keeping our bodies in the vertical plane. They took a couple of minutes to get used to, but provided us all with an essential grip as we climbed up the first set of stairs cut into the ice.

In single file, our team of aspirant Scotts and Shackletons wound its way ever upwards, occasionally traversing crevasses, or sliding between two huge sections of ice. The hike was not too demanding and had plenty to keep us all interested, but the rain did cast a certain pall over proceedings as we could not really get an overall idea of where we were due to the limited visibility.

The weather, although miserable, did not detract from the experience, and we all greatly enjoyed ourselves and appreciated the nature of the activity. Unfortunately, we were unable to go into any of the ice caves as they were submerged in water, but we nonetheless, felt a sense of achievement in the five hour ice adventure.

After hot showers and warm, dry and clean clothes, we went out for a hearty meal and a few apres-hike drinks - we felt we had earnt them!

Dan and Andrea
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