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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 2

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Day 28 - To the Glaciers

We’re on the move again after a wonderful couple of days in Wanaka. NZ has many glaciers, but the biggest and best known are Fox Glacier (no connection with Foxes Glacier mints) and Franz Josef Glacier – they are only 10 miles apart. We’re heading to the Franz Josef Township and pass Fox on our way. We’d like to see both glaciers.

The townships of Fox and Franz Josef have grown up on the backs of their glaciers; both are heavy on glacier trips and experiences, and light on everything else. Nonetheless, we have coffee at Fox and head off for the car park close to the Fox Glacier. As we get out of the car, Chris misses her hand bag, and then realises she’s left it at the café back in Fox (3 miles away)! We shoot back and there it is, still on the table where she’d left it! Nothing lost, we’re soon back in the car park near the end of the glacier.

We know it’s a walk of less than a mile to the actual glacier, but its rugged and quite cold, so we dress up in ‘layers’ and put on our walking socks and boots.

Glaciers are impressive beasts but in reality they are not quite what TV exposure has led us to expect. The surface ice of the glacier has been around for 10s of years and at the lower reaches of the glacier (where we are) the ice is quite dirty. At the leading edge the ice is cracking apart and there is evidence of recent falls. A fast running stream flows from the base and, magically, it’s milky white. When we are there, everyone is respecting the rope barrier and the warning signs saying “DANGER”. But, the previous week, two over-confident Aussies had ventured under the ice overhang and a large chuck of ice had fallen on them. As a national newspaper reported it, “One was seriously injured and the other was very seriously injured”!!! Both had been hospitalised.

I’d expected there to be a throng of people at the end of the glacier, but within a few minutes it was just Chris and I and a lad by himself. The three of us just stood in awe - what else is there to do?

From my days studying glaciers (as part of a geophysics course), I remembered about glacial striations – these are parallel scratches on rocks and boulders caused when they are rubbed against the glacier’s floor by the moving ice above them. The striation lines are very distinctive and are often found accompanied by a highly polished surface on the rock (caused in the same way). After a bit of scrambling around I was able to turn this bit of book learning into a reality in my hand – I found a couple of very convincing samples right on the pathway back to the car park

We are soon at Franz Josef and we are welcomed by the inevitable buzz of helicopters taking off from the helipad next to the main street. The town is totally geared up to help you see the glaciers (and a lot more besides). There are trips to the glacier by foot, helicopter, 4-WD, buggy, horse or plane; trips by helicopter or plane to Mt Cook, Milford Sound and Southern Alps; guided tours to a nearby heron sanctuary; kayaking, canoeing and jet boating down the Franz Josef River, and, and, and…..

Of course, people are also being bussed in from places like Queenstown and there’s the Kiwi Experience and other tour busses stopping to drop off and pick up travellers. This makes for quite a hub-hub in the town, but precious little character or charm. The same was true of Fox Township.

Seduced by the good value we again dine Indian and have an early night, with a long and eventful day in prospect tomorrow.

Continue to Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

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