Road trip part 1: Fox Glacier


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Oceania
August 21st 2009
Published: August 24th 2009
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So after 5 weeks in New Zealand we thought we'd better get out and see some of this famously beautiful country, and what better opportunity than a 2 week visit from our friends Steve and Hannah. As they were arriving at Christchurch airport we decided to take a couple of days to drive the 500km back up to Christchurch calling at two of the other South Island ski fields on the way. Firstly, we spent the day at Cardrona, which is about 1.5 hours drive from where we are staying, close to Wanaka. It's a great ski field for snowboarders as the pistes are nice and wide and it has loads of terrain park (jumps, rails, half pipes etc) including a beginner terrain park just right for some little Goughy sized jumps. Once we had our fill of Cardrona we drove the 4.5 hours up to the Mt Hutt ski field. Unfortunately, we got our first taste of the NZ traffic cops who seem to be on a massive revenue generating exercise at the moment (more on this later!). Police pullovers = 1, tickets = 1 (to be continued....). Mt Hutt is linked in with the two fields we have season passes for so we only had to pay 50% for the lift pass, lucky for Sarah really as she managed one run before giving up due to a swollen, painful little toe!!! Joe managed to stick it out longer and got some good runs in before we headed down the mountain (scariest mountain road to date) for the last 100km to Christchurch, where we spent the night.

We collected the newly engaged Steve and Hannah from Christchurch airport and hit the road straightaway as we had another long drive ahead of us to Fox Glacier on the West Coast. Just 20km from Fox we got our second dose of the traffic cops, this time with Steve at the helm. Somehow he managed to sweet talk the copper ("sorry guv'nor, I'm just a stupid pommie fresh off the plane") and this time we went ticket free! Police pullovers = 2, tickets = 1.

We had booked on a full day walking tour of the Fox Glacier. After getting booted up we took a short bus trip to the glacial valley to begin our 7 hour walk. The glaciers in New Zealand are fairly unique as they are some of the only glaciers that are not permanently receding, with the Fox Glacier advancing on several occasions over the past decade. Global warming seems to actually be helping the Fox Glacier grow as the warmer currents coming over the Tasman from Australia dump more rain on the West Coast mountains, which falls as snow at the top of the glacier.

The first part of the walk was along the glacial valley amongst the meltwater streams that create ribbons of clear, pale blue water across the flat valley bottom. We walked until we were close to the terminal face and then headed up the valley side into the bush so that we could enter the glacier several hundred metres back from the face. Our walk in the bush took us past possum traps and again we felt better about the possums we had sent to an early grave on the drive home (two at the last count!) as we were lectured on what an awful pest they are here.

Once on the glacier we had to put crampons on. Not the easiest things to walk in but I wouldn't fancy my chances walking on the ice without them - they were actually pretty amazing and you could literally walk at stupid angles on the ice wirth them on. We spent about 4-5 hours on the ice itself jumping over crevasses and exploring ice caves. We walked down the glacier as far as the terminal face, where the ice really starts to break up forming some massive cracks we wouldn't want to fall down, and back up the glacier to an area called The Pinnacles, which is another ice face, on which some people were ice climbing. Going inside the ice caves was really interesting, seeing how blue the ice is when so compact. I can't really do justice to how awesome the glacier/ice was in words but hopefully the photos will illustrate this better. The guide was pretty cool and even offered to let some of us have a go with his ice pick so Joe stepped up to help hack away some steps for us to walk on. After Joe had sent a couple of poorly directed swings with the icepick down on the ice, the guide only then clocked that it probably wasnt the ideal thing to do to stand about 2 cm directly behind him (health and safety does not seem to be a concept that is understood here) . Sarah also stayed well clear at this point wondering whether ice pick embedded in head would be covered by the travel insurance.

After a full day on the ice we headed back through the bush. The tour was really challenging, testing our physical fitness (which is not great after 3 months without any sport; cue plans to step up our exercise regime when we get back) and turning all our legs to jelly by the end of the day but it was definitely worth it. There is a hlaf day tour with much less walking but you spend very little time actually on the ice so if anyone is thinking about visiting Fox, we'd definitely recommend the full day tour. It was also a challenging day for Sarah, who was very proud to survive a whole 7 hours without a toilet break - those who know Sarah and her rubbish bladder well will be astounded at this feat.







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