Glaciers, New Zealand Style

Today I raised my thumb again, and snagged a ride back down the Okarito Road with a lovely couple from Brazil who’d rented a “camper” (tiny rental motorhome) in Christchurch and driven over Arthur’s Pass down to Okarito. I would have been happy with a lift back to the Forks, but they were heading down to Franz Joseph, as I was, so they gave me a ride all the way. We hit it off immediately — I had seen them investigating a “homemade” camper parked on the road down by the hostel (it looked like a wooden Swiss Chalet built on the bed of an ancient truck, complete with a backporch). The woman was very interested in photography and kept making her husband stop so she could take pictures, which made me smile, and the husband was a pilot and had once flown a small plane to the Antarctic Peninsula! They ended up giving me a ride up to the parking lot for hikes to the glacier itself — we hiked up the riverbed to see the terminal face of the Franz Joseph glacier this afternoon, and then we grabbed lunch together before they took off to the next town to see the Fox Glacier. I’ll see Fox tomorrow. Tonight, I’m hunkering down in Franz Joseph, and typing up this message in a big red bus parked along the road just south of my hostel, whose interior has been converted into an internet cafe.

My mind is back in Antarctica, partly because we spoke of it over lunch. It was so incredible to see both a crevassed ice face AND rich green rainforest surrounding it. The Franz Joseph flows down a long ways, and is heavily serac’d, and great blue ice crevasses like a million wrinkles. The face melts down and is more gradual than the abrupt terminal faces I saw on glaciers in the Dry Valleys. The Franz Joseph face contains an archway of blue ice — underneath which is a great cave, like an entrance into the underworld, with a subglacial river pouring out, in angry torrents, water the color of grey milk. The Franz Joseph is a real mover – over 1 meter PER DAY. I can hardly believe this. It would be almost possible to SEE a glacier move, at 1 meter per day. The moon (full last night, but obscured by storm clouds) may rise clear tonight. Tomorrow I’ll move on at dawn to catch the early bus to Fox Glacier.

Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers

Franz Joseph Glacier – History

Franz Joseph Glacier – image showing valley and glacier riverbed

Franz Joseph Village

Why I did not pass the warning signs! *

(* Yes, I have seen glaciers calving-off bits of themselves in Antarctica!) One of the other hikes to the FJ glacier is “closed indefinately” due to landslides. Even during the half hour or so that I stood at the terminal face viewing area, I saw various small rocks and ice blocks tumbling down from the face of the glacier. Crushed to death by a gritty blue icecube? No thanks. šŸ˜‰

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