From Wanaka, we headed back to Queenstown for another couple of days. We loved the atmosphere of the place so much, we didn't mind a short backtrack before heading to Fox Glacier. The journey from QT to Fox was awesome, the heavy rain on the preceding day had caused hundreds if not thousands of instant waterfalls, a few of which spilled out on to the road. The mountain road threaded its way through the dark green covered peaks, the lush rain forest threatened to overrun the tarmac at every turn. From inside the coach, the forest looked steamy and tropical, the low clouds hung around the higher ferns and tree tops. Outside, the air was bitterly cold and made worse by the rain that was just starting up again.
We arrived at the town of Fox Glacier, a single street of around 200 metres lined with accommodation, an activities office, a convenience store, 3 cafés and a pub. As we walked down the road, there was emptiness. The Specials song 'Ghost Town' came to mind and we sung it as we walked over to book our trip to the ice face.
We had a rather refined dinner in our room, a cheeseboard, some freshly smoked salmon that we'd bought directly from the salmon farm en route, wine and burger rings, delish!
The early start to the glacier was more than compensated by the fact it was dry and bright. It rains 200 days a year here and a dry day in winter is not to be sniffed at. We got given boots and windproof coats but more excitingly, crampons.
The drive to the glacier took less than 10 minutes and as we parked, we got our first glimpse of the blue ice in the distance.
The walk to the glacier took around an hour, we traversed mountain streams from which we drank the ice cold water, it was so pure that it didn't taste of anything. We also passed under vast areas of regular rockfall, the last few weeks rocks the size of a minivan had come crashing down causing a group of tourists to literally run for their lives, this was potentially a very dangerous place. Needless to say, we got passed without incident, however just a little way further we heard a cracking noise, we turned to see a rockfall on the other side of the canyon. It transpired that the rockfall we saw coincided with an earthquake that hit the Blenheim area of NZ, coincidence? We'll never know.
We climbed higher up the rocky path towards the glacier until we were stood on a flat piece of ground overlooking the frozen river. We donned our crampons, which was much easier than either of us anticipated and added a couple more layers of clothing. The crampons fitted on our boots in front of the heels and then we tied them off around the top of the boot and round our leg. Because of the 3 centimetre spikes, we had to walk like we were having a tantrum, raising our knees high and stamping hard into the ground. So in a single line, resembling a group of stroppy, but very well trained toddlers, we stamped our way down the final muddy trail to the ice.
Fox glacier is comparatively fast moving. The ice takes around sixty years to flow from the top to the bottom. During this time, the ice picks up rocks, stones and mud as it carves its way though the valley. So near the bottom end where we were, the ice was encrusted with debris making it look just a little dirty. As we walked further the ice got brighter and clearer until after just a few hundred metres we were stood on perfectly translucent, blue ice. Glacial melt poured through crags and along the surface until it disappeared through a hole or over the edge of a precipice to an unseen destination. The surface of the ice was rippled with small undulations, it looked like a blanket of tiny frozen waves that would finally reach the glacial face before crumbling off the edge. Further we went, alongside gullies and holes, hills and drops. Our footsteps spraying up icy fragments as the crampons struck the surface.
We reached a small pool, the water was blue, thin surface ice had started to form a film in the shallower parts. A horseshoe shaped wall of ice formed around the far side of the pool, enclosing and hiding it from the other direction. On top of the left ridge of the wall, a hole had formed through the ice, creating an incredible piece of abstract art. We climbed a little further and got a breathtaking view of the glacier, huge ice-cliffs loomed in the distance and led to the upper parts of the glacier, while in the foreground the frozen surface looked smashed and hostile but incredible beautiful. In all, we were on the glacier for three hours, it felt like 20 minutes. We headed back the way we'd come and yet it looked so different, so white and pristine. As we neared the edge again, we got a great view down the valley. Just a couple of decades ago, the glacier filled this sound for a further 5 kilometres and at a level almost double it's current, 100 metre depth. While this sounds like bad news, the glacier is still considered healthy and of little concern.
On to Greymouth to catch a train.