Dragon flies, aqua blue glacial streams, palm tree bases with fern surprise fronds at the top (my beloved tree ferns), an abundance of creek stones smoothed and on occasion splashed with shimmer, No SNAKES…anywhere, bee boxes randomly on the roadside. There is such energy and positivity in the air and in the people here. Relaxed and uncomplicated. Nothing heady, attitudinal, conjured. Straight forward and every ounce of everything is real. I am amazed at what being in such a place does for me and feel such energy towards finding and creating this in a regular life. New Zealand is the closest to paradise I have ever experienced. It is an optimal place for well being. They even have centers of well being called sanitariums. There is one called Vagus and its reference to tha part of the anatomy that is implicated in anxiety cracks me up.
The New Zealanders generally camp on holiday- you can see why. The natural world is so inviting here. There is nothing that wants to do you harm. Grass is a blanket, trees shaped into cradles, the hills look like crazy cupcakes brown with green blobules spiraled around. I won't tell you which country I think is her ass, but this country is the loving arms of mother earth in permanent embrace. She asks you to come and visit with her.
There is an amazing system of tramps (treks), tracks (hiking trails) and huts (barebones cabins in crazy cool places) and if you have older kids or no kids this would be such a great way to experience this island. A lot of the trampers hitchhike the nontrack part of the route. We saw a good number of women tramping with their thumbs out and chuckled at the irony. Guess they are comforted by the fact there are no snakes in this country too.
We pull into Franz Josef and immediately bathe in its excellent vibe. We stay in a rain forest at the base of a mountain walkable to town, the hot springs and the trail head of a ton of hikes, er uh tramps, treks..whatever. It was so dramatic to see the mountains draped in rainforest on our way in- the altitude line marking the point of O degrees was clearly drawn on their faces with green below and brown above. We provision, launder and nestle into our jungle camp.
The next morning we are off for our heli hike. I have never been on a helicopter and envision it will feel like being on the back of a bumble bee. It feels much more stable than that- at least the way up to the glacier does. We are suited up in issued boots and socks, a waterproof jacket and a bum bag filled with what we are told are called cramp ons. Anyone with jeans has to trade them out for loaner pants. Apparently they are sponges for water and a liability in the cold. You know, plastic generally has a negative connotation these days but I must confess I am a BIG fan of the outdoor pants we have all lived in the whole time in New Zealand. Zip on, zip off legs, red wine beads up on them and can be swiped away, they dry in 2 minutes…they cant go in the dryer so must be some sort of version of plastic but they work. I could have a few colors, just focus on my tops for self expressions and live out my days.
Our guide helps us get on our cramp ons. Turns out this is very similar to getting our groove on and I like it. Before landing we did a fly by of the top of the glacier and he explains that it is called the neve. It is the bowl that originally captures the snow and the weight of it compresses it to ice. He likens the neve to the stringed part of a tennis racket and describes that where we presently stand is like the top of the handle just before it joins to the stringed area. The tennis racket anaology doesn't account for the great drop that occurs where racket meets handle. Perhaps think of it as one of McEnroe'ss rackets and it will be more correct. The drop is an obvious weak spot for the glacier as ice columns stand high pushed up like mini mountains showing the presence of a pressure point.
It is a warm day and I remember skiing in Oberlech seeing the implosion of snow and hearing about the warm day avalanche that took out the Dutch prince. Large bodies of snow and ice destabilize in the sun. The bottom of the glacier is closed off to hiking it is so unstable. There are frequent low rumbles as the ice moves; the occasional landslides accompanies the glacial growls. It is not scary but commands respects. The guide confessed his phobias the first 5 minutes on the ice which probably started my Oberlech thought stream. He drops that knows it is a numbers game with helicopters and feels he is pushing his luck and must change occupations soon. He then proceeds to tell me that geologists are predicting another major earthquake. The meaurements of the plates reveal they are due for a major snap back at any moment. I'm so glad he felt he could make his confessions to me? Nice info to have while you are on a glacier but I am intoxicated by the scenery and the crampons make me feel like spiderman- not even he can summon my chicken little.
The glacier is a big chunk of ice caught in a snapshot of motion. Another words. Take a fast moving 200 feet deep river and flash freeze it solid capturing the motion and you will get the most amazing opaque white mass. It's size and depth and the unique results of shifting are what make it impressive. You realize in an unfolding kind of way that it is opaque not because the ice freezes white, but because of the depth. In thin spots it is not clear but blue. Blue pools gather where ice has melted and caves form. Parts of it act like a netting for landslide rocks and in other places it is pristine. Chunks grow out of it where the direction of the landscape change and the pressure forces an outcropping. It is not static; you know it is alive by its noise and the snap shots of movement that are all around you. Hiking it is so amazing as the terrain is so unique and changing…it is not an all upclimb. You have peaks and valleys to dig into with your spikes to navigate. There are holes that lead all the way down to the bottom that one of my kids apparently neared and was told off. Plenty of danger- but so drowned by the beauty. You feel like if you are called to go this would be a great place to exit from. This glacier is just 1 of 3 in the world that flow right to the sea and are set in a temperate climate with accompanying rain forest. It moves around 10 times faster than others due to its unique features. Sublime.
Much to the kids dismay, the hub and I are charged up with endorphins by the heli hike and feel the pressure of moving on from Franz upon us so we declare glow worm hike. We set off on our vertical ascent of the rainforest and arrive an hour later at the remains of a water flume at Tartare tunnels. A hole was blasted clear through the mountain to tap into a water vein that could be channeled into the town at the base and hydroelectrically supply power to a mill and lights to a hotel. The remnants of this are a grown over cave with 8 inches of ice cold water in the bottom flowing past you. Glow WORM and mayflies are on the ceiling. We forgot our flashlights and cell phones were nearly out of charge so we only made it half way through before we ran out of light. We saw one glow worm with his brown body and green glowing dotted head. The may flies looked like a flying shrimps. I do think some champagne is in order tonight.