I'm writing this on Friday morning at the Rainforest Retreat in Franz Josef Glacier village. The snow-covered craggy mountains which dominate the village are sparkling like diamonds in the morning sun, with a cloudless blue sky behind them. Yesterday afternoon when we did the hike up to the glacier, the top of the mountains were shrouded in huge cumulus clouds, but today all is shining bright so we'll go and take another look, or maybe go to the Fox Glacier which is not far away. The summit of Mount Cook (NZ's highest peak) should be clearly visible today - a good day for anyone planning to climb it (but count me out!) Franz Josef glacier was spectacular to look at, but we decided not to pay the hundred and fifty dollars to have a guided walk up to the top of it on the ice - it's full of crevasses and ice pools to fall into - an expensive way to have a heart attack if you ask me! But the Kiwis love all that - this is the home of bungy jumping after all.
The lush green rainforest goes right up to the glacier - which seems impossible! The amazing thing about the glacier for me was that it was shimmering blue in places - this is due to the ice getting packed so dense that all the colours of the spectrum are absorbed except blue.
In the car park near the start of the hike, we had an encounter with a kea - the NZ parrot - which Owen found even more amazing than the glacier! The kea is a big, parrot-shaped green bird with a flame-red underside when it flies. It was perched on top of the car next to ours for ages, screeching at us and giving us a crafty look with its beady eyes. They're quite rare so we were really lucky to have such a close encounter with one.
Later on yesterday we went to a kiwi sanctuary in the village where we came up close with two rowi kiwis (a very rare and endangered variety of kiwi) - they're nocturnal so we went after dark, but their pen was subtley lit so we could see them. I was surprised at how hedgehog-like they are, their feathers don't look at all like feathers, and they have whiskers like a cat. They have no wings or tail, just extremely muscular legs and that long, pokey beak which is constantly jabbing into vegetation looking for bugs to eat. Owen was in his element of course - he's loving the NZ wildlife.
We stayed last night in the Rainforest Retreat, which was lovely. It's a small compound of wooden log cabins and tree houses built in the rainforest. We had a lovely soak in the outdoor hot pool last night, chatting to other travellers (lots of gap-year students on the Kiwi Experience bus trip here), and - hooray - we got our dirty laundry washed (no more pongy clothes - phew!). The staff here are lovely - when we arrived the guy at reception gave us a free upgrade to a deluxe double room (with plasma TV, ensuite bath etc) because his surname was also Morgan and he said we were his 'family'!