Hello again. I am safely back from the glacier walk, which took around 4 hours to complete, and am just taking advantage of some rare free time we have in between dinner and our visit to see some glow worms later tonight. I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon despite the weather, which was cloudy with occassional outbreaks of drizzle. It was also pretty cold and windy out on the glacier, though not as cold as you would imagine from looking at the photos. It stayed way above freezing. The Fox Glacier is one of two "twin" glaciers out here on the west coast. Near neighbour Franz Josef Glacier is the one we didn't visit, but we have been told it is nearly the same as Fox anyway, and from the postcards it looks hard to tell the difference. Fox is the slightly longer of the two at 13km long, but we only visited the lower couple of kilometres of it, which is almost down at sea level. It is a pretty unique glacier in that the ice is still present way below the snow line, and it is surrounded by temperate rainforest. This is because when there are south westerly winds from Antartica, colder air and snow is brought over, and that snow compacts in the upper reaches of the glacier, and then slowly flows down the mountainside. With the snow so compacted its melting point is well above freezing. The rainforest exists because when there are north westerly winds from Australia, warmer air as well as lots of moisture from the Tasman Sea is brought over, so the area gets lots of rain. Its quite a unique system.
We were dropped off near the terminal face of the glacier, which is far too dangerous to go near because of falling ice. Our walk took us up through the rainforest, across some precarious footpaths on cliff edges (some of which had alarms on to alert of rockfalls), and then down onto the ice itself. We donned some small clampon things on our provided hiking boots and spent about 30 minutes exploring the ice formations. It really wasn't as slippery as I'd expected and nowhere near as slippery as the ice I walked on in Chile. The ice was moist on the footpaths, which had been chiselled away by the guides here. They had even created some steps, though these require constant maintenance as if they are left for more than 2 days they will melt and disappear. The lower part of the glacier moves a lot slower than the upper half, though we did hear a couple of bangs from falling ice somewhere nearby. The upper half moves at an astonishing 5m per day, which is lightening speed geologically. Some of the others visited the compression zone between the upper and lower parts by taking a helicopter trip, and their photos look amazing. The ice was so blue up there and there were far more formations to see. Down in the lower reaches we just saw a couple of tiny caves and crevasses, and the ice was very dirty due to all the debris picked up as the glacier flowed down. It was still mightily impressive to see though, and I got some excellent photos which highlight the scale of it all. Walking groups looked so small when we were looking down from the cliffside.
Tomorrow we head for Queenstown, the adventure sports capital of the world! I have just booked a trip on the Shotover Jet Boat, which hurtles in between tight canyon walls at a very fast speed and is one the original adrenaline activities which made Queenstown such a famous destination. Its a long drive from here, but we are breaking up the drive by stopping for a few short walks on the way. I hope the weather improves so I can get a view of New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook, which is not far from where we are staying in Fox Glacier. But its so unpredictable here you never know.
And to end on a sour note - yet more of my friends from South America have fallen victim to crime here in New Zealand. Katie got her bag snatched a few weeks ago, and now Louise and Jen have had their camper van broken into in a car park and had some of their belongings stolen. How ironic after we all survived Bolivia and such places!