Since I’m behind on posting, I’m going to start each post with the actual dates the post is referring to.
I also have a few more pictures to add to this post, but the Internet is slow, so I’ll do it later.
I couldn’t decide between Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, so I decided to see both. They’re right next to each other, so it’s easy enough to see both.
Up to this point I have been traveling by Intercity bus, but this time I traveled with Atomic Shuttle. Atomic Shuttle is a smaller coach that follows more or less the same route and is often a little bit cheaper (only the travel times aren’t always as favorable). Anyway, the bus ride from Nelson to Franz Josef was just a little under 10 hours. I was thinking I’d just read and sleep the whole way, but I met a nice guy from Boston named Ian (he was actually the only other person on the bus). We talked pretty much the entire bus trip, which made it go much faster. The bus driver made a quick stop in Punakaiki so we could see the Pancake Rocks.
Ian was planning to go to Greymouth, but when we got there it looked very very grey indeed. So…he decided to stay on the bus and continue on to Franz Josef with me. We stayed at the Montrose Backpackers, a nice hostel with free Internet (very rare) and a friendly owner.
We threw our stuff down and wandered around the pretty town, which basically consists of 2 streets full of businesses geared around tourism and day trips to the Franz Josef glacier.
Our city tour took all of 10 minutes to complete, so we borrowed a flashlight from the hostel (only here they call it a torch – a much more exciting term – like something you’d use for a serious expedition) and we went on a short night hike through the forest to see some glow worms. It was impressive, but I’m glad I was able to see them for free rather than paying big money to go to the glow worm caves in Waitomo (which I heard is very cool, but can feel a little like a theme park).
This is a glow worm. I know it doesn’t look exciting in this picture, but trust me – they’re cool.
The next day we caught a shuttle to the base of Franz Josef glacier and did some small hikes in the area. Julius von Haast, a German explorer, named the glacier after Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria in 1865. But the Maori have a more interesting name for the glacier. It’s called “Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere” or “Tears of the Avalanche Girl.” According to Maori legend, Hinehukatere loved to climb in the mountains and she convinced her lover, Tawe, to join her even though he wasn’t an accomplished climber. He climbed with her and was killed by an avalanche. Hinehukatere’s tears flowed down the mountain and froze, forming the glacier.
The hiking trails were a wee bit treacherous – with river crossings, slippery rocks, and sketchy swing bridges. We had great weather all day and the second we got back to our hostel it started pouring! We watched Lord of the Rings (probably the most commonly watched movie by tourists in New Zealand hostels) while we waited for our bus to Fox Glacier, which is about 30 minutes south of Franz Josef.
Fox township is even smaller than Franz Josef, as it consists of only one main street. We didn’t have to worry about comparing hostels or anything, because there is only one: The Ivory Towers Backpackers. The hostel was very comfortable and homey feeling, but the Internet was expensive and the owner was a major grump.
Fox Glacier is named after an early New Zealand Prime Minister, William Fox. The Māori name for the Fox Glacier is “Te Moeka o Tuawe” or “resting place of Tauwe”.
We woke up early for a full day guided tour on Fox Glacier. We all wore raincoats and pants, wool socks, hiking boots, crampons, and long sticks with a metal thingy at the end (not sure what the proper term is for those, but I have a feeling that isn’t it).
It was terribly foggy with freezing rain the entire time! If the scenery wasn’t so beautiful, these would be pretty miserable weather conditions to be marching around outdoors…but I was very content. Hiking on a glacier is pretty freaking cool no matter what the weather is like.
The hike just to get to the actual glacier part took quite a long time.
Once we got past all the older, grayish bits at the edge of the glacier, we walked up on mounds and mounds of fresh, clear white ice.
So pretty! The bright blue parts are sections that haven’t been exposed to the air yet.
See the person ice climbing in the top left corner?
Our guide carved fresh ice steps for us to walk up. Although his legs were much longer than mine so sometimes I was struggling to hoist myself up onto these steps made for giant people.
He also checked the ice depth to make sure we wouldn’t fall through.
We all walked in a line – leaving enough space between each other so that we could have more of a view than the person’s butt in front of us, but being close enough so that we could follow the exact steps they took.
Sometimes we had to pull ourselves up with ropes.
Sometimes we squeezed through narrow passageways.
We stopped at the top for some lunch, but as soon as I exposed my sandwich to the rain, it was wet and soggy within minutes. After about 3 or 4 hours, our fingers, toes, and faces were thoroughly numb and we made our way back down to solid ground.
I would have taken better pictures if my fingers weren’t buried in thick gloves and I wasn’t so worried about dropping my camera (or myself) into a crevasse.
I’m really glad I chose to do the full day hike rather than the half day. You spend so much time just getting to the glacier, that with the half day hike, you have to turn around and head back as soon as you get to the cool part. The full day hike was definitely worth it!
After the hike, we had a celebratory beer at the bar. I ordered a veggie burger and poured mint sauce all over it.
Knowing I had a long bus ride to Queenstown the next day, I stayed up late finishing the last 20 pages of my book. Ian had quite a large library in his backpack so he traded one of his books for mine. My new book: You Shall Know Our Velocity!
- Possums are nonnative species in New Zealand and are considered pests. In 1837, they were introduced by Australia to start a fur industry and now there are about 70 million possums in New Zealand (about 20 per person). Possums have no natural predators in New Zealand, so they multiply rapidly and eat native plants and birds. To help control the possum problem, the government of New Zealand uses cyanide and a few other types of poisons. I understand that the possums have to be controlled somehow, but I would hope there is a better, more humane way to do it. Cyanide also seems to cause harm to the very animals New Zealand is trying to protect. Anyway, it’s very common here to see scarves, slippers, hats, and gloves made with a blend of merino wool and possum fur.
- People here are big on facts and titles (like the 3rd biggest, 10th longest, etc.) Here are a few things I’ve learned from bus drivers: Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, is the world’s steepest street. Taupo has the largest man-made forest in the world. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are the only glaciers in the world to flow down to temperate rainforest. They move up to 4 meters a day (very fast for a glacier) and they are also some of the only glaciers that are advancing (most are retreating).