"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - The Franz Josef Glacier

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Zealand Diary - The Franz Josef Glacier

Kea in the bush
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Coffee and breakfast in our room this morning. Breakfast is usually cereal and whole grain raisin English muffins with peanut butter and jelly.  It’s the easiest to carry and not have to worry about keeping it cold. Soy milk for me. It doesn’t need refrigeration but we usually have a refrigerator we can keep it cold in. Each place we stay usually offers us a carton or small bottle of milk so Bob uses that for his cereal. It’s worked quite well.

We don’t have anything planned until 10:15 when we are scheduled to take a tour to the Franz Josef Glacier. In Bob’s research it wasn’t quite clear whether we could actually get to the glacier on our own so we booked a tour. Turns out after we looked at the local maps, we probably could. But the tour is booked and paid for so we’ll stick with the plan.

Instead of sitting around waiting for the tour time, we walk over to the Information Center that is open early. It’s a bit disappointing because it isn’t as nice as the one in Haast was. It’s mainly just a brochure center with a souvenir shop. We walk down the street and check out the booking center that advertises showing a movie of the glacier. We thought it might be free—sort of an incentive to book with them to see what’s on the video, but we find it costs $12 NZD. I do find a nice kiwi ornament for our Christmas tree though in their gift shop.

Down the street and around the corner is another wildlife center. It is an opportunity to see kiwi much like we did in Rotorua. These kiwi are more rare and smaller that the brown kiwi we saw up north. The price is $50 NZD and there isn’t a whole lot more to see. Glad we did it in Rotorua.

On the way back to our room to pick up our gear, we stop in the small supermarket and get a couple of tomatoes and some rolls to have with the leftover pasta from my dinner last night. It was way too much to eat and will make a great lunch.

We check into the Franz Josef Glacier Guides and fill out all the disclaimers, politely decline their hiking boots and jackets. It can’t be any worse than the Fox Glacier track and we survived that with our own shoes and gear. A short drive in a mini bus to the parking lot by the tracks to the glacier and we are off. It is a small group of five plus three guides. One to lead, one in training, and one who is checking the track for damage from the recent rains.

The walk starts off in the bush and our guide, Phil, who has studied botany at the university gives us some great information on some of the plants we see. To everyone’s delight, we find a Kea parrot in the woods. He poses for us a bit. When Bob tells one of the guides about the Kea in the park at Ta Anau, he pulls out his iPhone to show him the video. As it plays and the noise the Kea makes is heard, the Kea in the trees moves a bit closer to us. Not sure what that Kea dance video means but it did attract him.

The dense growth of plants and trees changes to sparser new growth where the forest is moving into the area where the glacier has retreated and then we are into the valley. The stones are quite interesting but a little treacherous as we march on. Phil takes us on and off the public path. There are some huge waterfalls on either side of the valley we walk through. Down the middle is the braided glacial river flowing from the Franz Josef glacier.

There are several places where we have to ford the streams but we make it without falling in or getting our feet wet. When we reach the place where the public path ends, the guides lead us over the barrier and we begin our ascent on the terminal moraine. The moraine is the huge pile of stone pushed forward when the glacier advances. This glacier is quite active and has advanced and receded at a pretty fast rate.

The huge moraine we climbed.
The moraine is not only stones and boulders, it is also made of some of the ice from the glacier. In some places where the stones have washed away, you can see the ice under it. I look up the hill of stone and boulder and wonder if I’m up to it. I’ve come this far. I can make it, I tell myself.

While it is a steep climb, the narrow footpath switches back and forth and Phil doesn’t rush us. He points out some pieces of quartz and talks of finding quartz crystals sometimes when the rocks shift. The reward for climbing to the top is a spectacular view of the glacier. As we take pictures and just sit and admire one of nature’s great works of art, someone shouts. They’ve seen a piece break off and roll down the face of the glacier on the left side where much of it is covered in stone and silt. It actually sends up a cloud of dust that eventually begins to drift into the valley.

As we descend, I realize that we have completely lost the sun and the clouds have become heavier. A slight mist is hitting my face, a mist or perhaps a little of the dust from the glacier. Safely back on the floor of the valley we pick up a little speed by sticking to the public path this time. Phil stops several times to point out the fault lines in the alpine mountains surrounding us and a big hole in the ground called a kettle where a huge chunk of ice was stuck for a time and the rocks and silt were pushed around it. When the ice melted, all that was left was a hole in the ground where it was.
Our view from the top

Our walk finishes about three hours after we started and back in the town, we walk around the corner to our motel and fix lunch. With nothing else planned for the afternoon, we decide it’s a good opportunity to do laundry one last time. It takes a little longer to dry for some reason. I suspect a problem with the dryer because the manager comes and puts two more coins in for me when he saw my clothes hadn’t dried.

Down the street and around the block from our hotel are two more tracks and we decide to do a little more walking before dinner. Unfortunately the rain returns and we are rather wet when we arrive at the restaurant that we chose for dinner. The hostess greets us as if nothing were wrong and we sit where we can put our all weather coats on chairs to dry.

Feeling on top of the world.
While we wait to order, I read the history of the Alice May Restaurant. It’s rather interesting. Alice May Parkinson was one of 12 children. She was born in the back country of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The family was relatively poor and she worked as a domestic from the age of 14. Later she became pregnant with her lover’s child which was stillborn. When the lover rejected her after he had promised to marry her, she took a gun and shot him four times. She then tried to kill herself. She was tried and sentence to life in prison. Her situation became the focus of a feminist Socialist Movement that gained momentum and support. She was eventually released after serving six years of her sentence. She went on to marry Charles O’Loughlin and have six children. The restaurant, opened by one of her grandchildren, is named in her honor and dedicated to the memory of her son, Bryan O’Loughlin. Amazing what you can learn while you wait for a delicious meal to arrive.

We are definitely done for the night. We need to dry out and hope that tomorrow we can dodge this rain pattern.

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