Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fox Glacier

Hey there, blog pals! How's everyone? New Zealand is all good, but we're hearing of a tropical cyclone heading toward us and expected to hit on Tuesday. Of course that would happen while we're here. We always experience some sort of weather catastrophe or record breaking event wherever we go and this should be no different. Until then, I'm going to continue to work on my South Island posts and Fox Glacier was just about the halfway point of the two weeks we spent there, so I guess I'm making some progress. I do hate to replace the front page spot of the lovely silver fern photo on the Lake Matheson post though. It's one of my favorites.

I believe we left off with the trek from Clyde in Central Otago over to Fox Glacier on the west coast of the South Island and then our first morning there in Fox Glacier in the rainforests around Lake Matheson. From that drip droppy, mossy green rainforest, we drove just a few minutes back into the cute little town at the base of the Southern Alps, including New Zealand's highest peaks, Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, boarded a helicopter and were up to the glacier very quickly.

This area is still part of the wet west with squalls and storms materializing suddenly and often from the Tasman Sea. We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and learned that the weather had closed everything and that no one had gotten up to the glaciers, either by helicopter or on foot. It can rain in biblical profusion and everything to do with the glaciers is on a minute-to-minute basis. We got very, very lucky and learned that our heli-hike would go, but watched the clouds the entire time as they descended and neared the point that would mean that choppers would be sent in to get us early.

Those lunches in the window went with us for the guides that had already been up there since earlier that morning. Apparently one of them had been a wee bit naughty...

You're all probably envious of our fancy footwear, right?  And even cooler -- crampons to keep us firmly planted on the glacier and not stuck 200 feet down in a crevasse.

In just a few minutes, the rainforest was gone, the little town was gone, and we were on Fox Glacier, New Zealand's longest glacier amongst the country's 370 speedy ice rivers (moving about 10 times faster than other glaciers in the world). Why are the Kiwi glaciers zooming down the mountains like this, you might ask? What's the hurry, man? Apparently it's because of the shape of their valleys and the amount of snow accumulating at the top. From Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand:

Really the helicopter trip was just about as cool as the glacier itself. I hadn't realized that Dennis is extreeeeemely fond of helicopters. It was a bit of a glimpse into my husband as a 12 year old. Worth the price of the heli-hike right there! :-) Pure happiness!

The second shot up from here was an endless hole to the center of the earth where that huge waterfall simply disappeared. If I had to guess, I'd say it must come out in the Amazon somewhere.

The blue of some of the ice is the result of the way it is compressed and how light goes through it.

Just beyond Laurel and me is a crevasse with a lovely little stream of water that disappears forever around a curve, never to be seen again. I think I have a close-up of that -- yes, here you go:

One of the scariest things that we saw up there, to me, were the moulins. Like Moulin Rouge. It means windmill and they are relatively small tunnels scattered randomly that you might just step into and never be seen again. I thought of them as the glacier's toilets, as there was constant rushing water swirling through them and into the abyss. They can open up anywhere anytime. Horrifying (again, to me...I'm a bit nervous on a glacier with my family there ready to be flushed down the glacier toilets). So our guide encouraged the kids to throw stuff into them and also held us by the shirt as we peered down toward imminent death. Yet again, would you see this in the States? I think not.

This bottomless crevasse was another chilling aspect of being on a glacier. Our lovely guide regaled us with stories of people that have slipped into these and suffocated to death as each exhalation let them slip farther down. Nightmares... in fact I am taking a deep breath right now as I type this. And of course I, along with my two children and husband that I actually still like a whole lot, had to cross over this numerous times. Good God.

The clouds never did quite make it down to the evacuation mark, so we were there for a few hours hiking around and avoiding the various ways we might expire.

But we didn't expire, did we... And soon I'll show you the rest of the South Island trip, but I think I might take a break to post some more recent photos. We're down to only five days left here and we've seen some beautiful summery things lately as we've also been consumed with packing and getting ready to head back to the States.

xo, K.


  1. Pretty neat! I definitely would have needed medication though!

  2. Haha! No kidding! I should've had a couple glasses of wine first (and then slipped into the moulin/toilet...)

  3. Those boots...kinda like bowling shoes, I'm thinking!!!!

  4. Yet another WOW Karin! I learnt so much about the glaciers from this succinct account. The visuals remain in the top class of photographic images. You certainly capture the essence of where you are. The family are indeed intrepid travellers/explorers and are welcome back 'home' whenever to pick up where you had to, unfortunately, leave off. The experiences you have enjoyed will most definitely be at the forefront of your memories for many, many years ahead. God bless and thank you for your brief input into my life.