Walking on Thick Ice

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Day 32 Franz Josef

The weather has really turned for the worst today, heavy rain most of the day so I haven’t got much planned apart from making my way down to Franz Josef. After getting bitten by hundreds of mosquitos during the night, don’t know how they got in, because I certainly didn’t leave a door open for them, I head off early trying to get away from the little blood suckers. I end up a few kilometres down the road at Lake Ianthe. By the time I’ve written a bit of yesterday’s blog, the rain has slowed, I can now see the lake and jump out for one of the very few photo opportunities of the day. Nice little lake with a short jetty and surrounded by bush.

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After snapping a few shots, I carry on down SH6 towards the Glaciers. Stopping off at a few rivers when the rain eased, the rivers where all bright blue water even in the bad light so they must look fantastic when the sun is beaming down. I finally reach Franz Josef, the place is all about tourism, with the small town full of places trying to get you up on to the glacier up behind the town. If you’re on a budget then there is a 1.5h return walk from the carpark at the base of the glacier, but this is only to view the glacier. The only way to get onto the glacier these days is to be flown in by Helicopter so can be quite expensive but totally worth it.

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I Have a quick look around town before finding a camp site for the night a get out of this pouring rain. I end up at the Franz Josef Camper Van Park, all the camp sites around here are a lot more expensive than the other places I’ve been but needing power for the night I had to pay a bit more than I wanted. The rain had started to ease again in the late evening so I headed out and found some dinner in town before hitting the pillow and getting a good night sleep before a big day tomorrow. Fingers crossed the weather turns and we get a stunning day as I head down to Fox Glacier.

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Day33 Fox Glacier

The crossed fingers worked, I wake up to find the clouds clearing and the sun trying to claw its way out. Pulling the curtains back to see the snow-capped mountains surrounding us, I know it’s going to be a great day. After finishing breakfast, I head off just out of town to the Franz Josef Glacier car park. There are a few walks you can do here, ranging from a 25min easy track to a 5hour hike. I take the short walk to Peters pool, this place was amazing, just a small lake with the water been like a mirror and reflecting the stunning snow-capped mountains surrounding the Glacier. Getting a few pictures between all the other tourists, I head back to the carpark and take another short walk where you can see the base of the glacier from a distance.

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Now lunch time, I head 30minutes down the SH6 to the sister Glacier, Fox Glacier. I’ve booked into do a Heli hike tour with Fox Glacier Guiding. Fox township is a smaller version of Franz Josef with a few tourist company’s, couple of shops and cafes. I check in and before long I was all booted up, jacket on and been driven over to the helipad. We all jump in, the rotors wind up and where’re off, across a small bit of farmland and then up the Valley, water falls everywhere in the mountains as we get amazing views of the Glacier, this massive sliding block of Ice and we are going to be exploring it. The Glacier is 12.5km long, in some places over 100m thick and is advancing down the slope at a rate of 1m per week.

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We land on the glacier and join the other 3 helicopter loads of tourists doing the same trip, get shown how to put on our crampons (spikey things to go on the bottom of our boots) then get split into 2 groups and get introduced to our guides for the afternoon. My guides name is Philip, good kiwi lad who says I’m probably only the second New Zealander he has had in the seven months of been up there. Again, kiwis not experiencing what this awesome country has to offer. We set off over rugged ice landscape. One great thing I found on the trip is that every day is different, there’s no set track like most tourist things, you go and explore the surrounding, the guides know where a few highlights are but with the ice moving and nature doing its thing, they say every week its totally different to the next.

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Philip takes us down the slope to a small cave he found earlier in the day, he lets us all climb in and take a look, only a few meters deep but the colour inside is incredible, bright blue of the thick ice and the glowing white of the outer. Everywhere you looked was great site, the sun was shining making the ice glow, the cameras were working overtime. We turn around and head as high up the glacier as we can go before you have to start climbing the ice (another trip you can do).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s caves and crevasses everywhere, all with amazing shapes and colouration. After climbing through a few more caves, Philip carving out a few steps and having a glacier shower (sticking our head under a little waterfall) it’s time to head back to the helipad. Three hours on the ice has flown by but such an amazing experience. The helicopters come and one group at a time, we get the short flight. back down to base.

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Late afternoon now so I head towards the ocean and find a nice DOC (department of conservation) campsite at Gillespie’s beach. The carpark is quite full with campers but can’t complain when you have another glowing Westcoast sunset on one side and the snow-capped mountain’s out the other. After the sun heads over the horizon I head to the van and call it a day. Tomorrow I head further down the coast, checking out a few sites along the way.

 

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