The Scale of Things

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Monday, July 18, 2005

Next stop for the day: Frans Josef, glacier territory. Not long after leaving Greymouth I saw a sign for 'Stafford' (of all places) which, out of simple curiosity took me on a brief detour. The place was so small I don't think it actually existed apart from a couple of farms and a cemetry, so I looped round and rejoined the main highway (I tried big bro!)

I arrived in Frans Josef shortly after a pleasant lunch stop at Lake Ianthe and headed straight for the glacier. Like the Tasman Glacier we saw at Mount Cook earlier in the year, to say that the view of this baby is an optical illusion would be a ridiculous understatement. As always, the pictures fail to support even the vaguest idea of its scale and size. I stood at the lookout and absorbed. In fact I became absorbed. The base of it, realistically, looked a good fifteen to twenty minute walk away with a bit of a steep climb before standing atop the main glacier. Then it worked its way back, right up through the valley into the giddy heights of the Southern Alps. Simple. Then it was time to put the theory in to practice. The ten minute walk became almost fifty and when I eventually reached the foot of the glacier itself, close enough to touch it, I chuckled to myself. It was all I could do. This 'bit of a steep climb' I'd observed from the lookout was the understatement of understatements. As I stood at the foot of it and looked up, that tiny little 'front wall' towered above me threateningly. It was no different to standing at the foot of a block of flats and looking directly up at the top floor. While I hovered pathetically around the base of it in awe, two huge pieces of ice from far over the other side came crashing down, pounding in to the ground with such force, the sound rumbled like distant thunder and I felt the ground move beneath me. As impressive and magnificent as this is, I was affectionately touching a sharp, chunk of ice the size of a small car at the time and it scared the living shit out of me. I'd already ventured way past the barrier, which warned of the falling ice and that no individuals were to venture past this point without an approved glacier guide or team. I'd seen enough. I was out of there.

I checked in to the Rainforest Retreat where I'd stayed before with Chicken, Igno and Chris at the beginning of December. It was a bit different this time; I was kipping in the van and the place had been finished. I remember thinking back then that it would turn out to be a top spot and it really is, it's superb. The whole park is set in the rainforest and each campervan juts in at such an angle as to have its own sort of private jungly area. To continue the theme, all the kitchens, ablution blocks, lodges and other buildings are all built in the style of log cabins, enough to make Tarzan proud. The facilities are spot on too. The bar and restaurant area is now finished and is kitted out superbly. After dinner I checked it out and met a few nutters from the Kiwi bus as well as 'Halo', the Stray driver who I'd travelled down from Hahei with. He barely recognised me - I had hair, and could walk!

Tomorrow I venture back to familiar territory - Wanaka, the final rest stop before Queenstown. Looks like I've shit out again though with the glacier climb. I missed it last time cos' of my foot nightmare and this time cos' of, well, time. The climb itself has got to be one of those 'not to be missed' experiences. As unique and magical as New Zealand is, its glaciers too are unique. There is nowhere else on earth where glaciers have advanced so close to the ocean. And they are nothing short of magnificent. I cannot express that enough. I made some enquiries earlier at the glacier guide place and you can get a bit of a bundle deal if you shuttle to and from Queenstown, so it looks like it will be possible to get out there on a few of my free days. Apparently, you can take a half-day or a whole-day hike, both of which will get you up there for a good poke around. The half day provides two hours and the full day, a good six hours on the glacier, right up at a decent level too where you can squeeze in and around blue ice caves. After what I saw today, it's already in the bag..
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