Sunday, 24 January 2016

NZ: Glacier Country

We left my gas guzzling monster parked on a street in Greymouth and headed down to Franz Josef in John's much more fuel efficient Mazda Demio.  We stopped via Hokitika Gorge, which was stunning - the water is a milky pale blue and just absolutely gorgeous, it looks like someone has poured food dye into it and that it can't be natural.  I have this theory that New Zealand is just a huge manufactured theme park - some of the stuff I have seen so far just doesn't seem real!!

As we drove further south, the mountains got bigger and clouds got lower and my excitement levels rose - I just LOVE looking at mountains.  At Franz Josef we checked into our hostel where we're basing ourselves for the next 3 nights (free hot tub, free soup, free pop corn...I think I'll like it here) then did a quick walk up to the Franz Josef glacier.  Argh it's so amazing - you follow a roaring grey water river along a track and boom - there's a huge glacier in front of you.  I've never seen anything like it, so super excited to be here!!

Franz Josef glacier

John licking some glacial ice he retrieved from the river

As close as you can get to the Franz Josef glacier when walking

An Alpine Parrot

On the walk up to the glacier we bumped into the girls who'd hijacked John's car the day before, and ended up going for a drink for a drink with them later on in the evening, followed by a night time walk up a dark forested pathway to see some glow worms.  As more than one of us pointed out, it sounds like the beginning of a horror movie.....However nothing bad came of us and we saw loads of glow worms - they aren't really as I imagined and they just look like little green constellations in the darkness.  We found some up close and you can see the strings they let loose to catch their food, a bit like a glow in the dark spider I guess.

A glow worm - the glowing thing is the worm and the little strings hanging from it capture its food (had to take the photo by shining red light on it for it to show up on a camera phone)

There was a slightly awkward moment when I saw some headlamps coming round the corner, so I stupidly suggested we should turn ours off and hide and then make these newcomers jump....everyone agreed and I instantly regretted suggesting it as we stood there sniggering in the dark.  Luckily the plan failed as they spotted us and they thought we had found something really interesting so they were staring at what we were staring at for what felt like ages and it all got a bit weird until John said 'hello?' because we weren't sure if they'd seen us or not.... and they were all 'oh hi, what are you looking at?'. It was weird.

The following day we woke up early, took advantage of the free breakfast and drove to Fox where we'd booked a helihike, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, you fly up in a helicopter to half way up the glacier, and walk around a bit on it, then a few hours later get picked up and flown down.  Because of the glaciers retreating, this is now the only way to walk on the glacier - in previous years you could walk from the base.  We chose Fox over Franz as it's less popular therefore less busy (the Fox township is much smaller than Franz) and it was $50 cheaper, plus you got more ice time.

We had a half an hour wait whilst they were assessing the weather, but then it was good to go so we borrowed waterproofs and leather boots before jumping in the chopper and flying up to the glacier.  If I could I would travel everywhere via helicopter, it's brilliant.

flying over some cows

the Fox glacier

waves of ice very slowly tumbling down the mountain valley

We landed 5 minutes later on a little platform cut into the ice, slid down some icy steps and put on some crampons before following our guide out on the glacier.  I am not the best on tour groups, as I have little patience with people and this trip was not an exception - we were a group of 11 and the others were doddery old people who were terrible at following instructions.  They walked on the ice like they were about to fall over on every step (even though crampons give you full movement - you could run in them if you wanted and not fall over or slip) and they took so many photos and selfies and held the group up.  Plus there was a man who was filming the entire thing and essentially living the experience through his samsung galaxy and he refused to put it down even when climbing through ice tunnels and then he lost his balance and fell on top of me and I secretly hoped he dropped the phone into a crevasse never to be seen again. God I am mean.

John braving shorts

Glacier selfie

an ice cave that we clambered through

we pulled ourselves along this cave and got very wet doing so but it was fun!

this photo is crazy and looks superimposed, like John is floating

The glacier is really quite amazing, again I didn't feel like it was real - it's huge chaotic waves of blue ice that we climbed up and down, we slid through an ice cave and slurped from melting glacial water. Also if you do need a pee on the glacier like I did, good news, you can just go!! So I peed behind a wave of ice and nearly froze off my fanny.

After warming up with some food from a cafe nearby, we drove to Lake Matheson and did a quick walk around it, it's meant to have 'the view of views' of Mount Tasman and Cook, however the clouds had descended again and we couldn't see much, but it was still nice nonetheless.

On a nice day, the mountains aren't covered in cloud, and are reflected in the lake. 

That evening we befriended an American and two German boys and had a really fun time talking shit and playing card games.  I played the best game of poker ever, I very nearly won (I went all in at 12.30am as I was tired but winning, and lost when I had a Jack and a 2 and the other guy has a Jack and a 4, argh!) My strategy was 'play like a crazy weirdo at the beginning then be more sensible and when i win some more money play a bit crazy again' and it worked, everyone thought I was bluffing each time I went a bit crazy when I actually had a really good hand. It also got a bit creepy when Jason the American dude and I had exactly the same hand twice in a row, and they were both crap hands but we were both bluffing and pretending we had something really good.  I would have proposed to him if it had happened a third time, luckily for him it didn't.

the crazy hand

Today has been a TOTAL WASHOUT.  Pouring it down with rain since last night and it's mountain rain so hasn't let up.  John and I decided to go a 3 and a half hour walk to a lagoon that was totally flooded, we foolishly tried to take the coastal loop track but luckily realised quite quickly the tide was coming in so ran back and did the inland track.  It was pleasant but I was happy to be back in the car and get out of my wet clothes, even my underwear was soaked through.  I am wondering if it's time to invest in a better waterproof jacket!

soaked to the bone

We have spent the afternoon lounging in the hostel common room and tomorrow drive back to Greymouth and part ways - it's been nice travelling with someone for a while and even nicer being able to split laundry and food costs!!

I will be starting the next part of my adventure tomorrow .....I AM GOING TO BE A DAIRY FARMER!!! Well sort of - I will be 'wwoofing' on a dairy farm with 334 cows for the next two weeks.  Not exactly sure of my jobs but I think I will be milking cows and doing farm duties 4-6 hours a day in return for free food and accommodation.  I am really excited!!!!   Though my excitement waned slightly when the german guy we befriended in the hostel is a farmer and told me stories of milking cows and getting covered in cow piss and shit at 4am.....

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