When we arrived in Franz Josef, it was beautiful and sunny. After several days of rain and gloom, Sarah and I decided that we needed to get out in the wilderness again. Immediately. So we walked down the street to a trailhead from which you could join with two short tracks. It was so close. Like 2 minutes away and we were out of the village and in the bush. It was a well-marked trail and everything (half of it was a gravel road type deal) but the map was definitely NOT to scale. No matter, the hike was pretty awesome. We ended up at a tunnel through a mountain, which had been built back in the gold rush days, for the purpose of directing water to “sluice” terraces for gold. Or something. We went into the tunnel, handy headlamps firmly secured on our heads, and walked through freezing cold, shin-deep water. Some people we had met had told us not to wear shoes, but it was dark, there were rocks, and neither of us were super keen on stepping on something unknown, either sharp or slimy, in the middle of a mountain. Our shoes could dry out later.
It was fun and slightly scary walking through this tunnel. After a few moments, we were far enough in that when we turned off the headlamps, it was completely dark. The only exception were fluorescent green pinpricks of light on the ceiling. Glowworms. When the lamps were back on, we could see the larva themselves (as that’s what glowworms are), kind of gross, long and wet-looking. We could also see the tiny beads of moisture that they were secreting, suspended on filaments that looked like spider webs. After noticing this, I think I kept my head down - didn’t want any gross larval discharge in my hair!
We reached the end of that tunnel, which led to a sort of bridge thing, and another tunnel beyond, which was closed off. We sploshed back through the tunnel, and squelched our way back toward the trailhead. We came to the fork and decided that we wanted to do the second hike that started from there, and set off through a forest that was actually a fairyland. Really pretty and awesome. The trail led to a bridge, which our map had warned us DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CROSS. We weren’t even tempted. It was clearly ancient, rusty, and barricaded off. On the way back, we saw some white-breasted wood pigeons, that were either courting or fighting, and a deer-type creature that was standing in the middle of the path. We stared it down and it scurried back into the forest.
That night, we had our six bed dorm all to ourselves, and it was pretty awesome. We were able to spread out a bit and pick the beds. We chose bottom bunks, because they are usually easier, but these ones were super short and I hit my head about 50 times. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I had a really good sleep.
The next morning, we set off on our glacier walk under a cloudless blue sky. They had advised us to come prepared with 3-4 warm layers, plus they provided rain jackets, rain pants, boots, socks, hats, gloves, and crampons. It was really hot, and I didn’t wear most of the layers. I put the jacket on, just for kicks, and it was almost at my knees. I was wearing shorts and looked naked (I call this look glacier chic). We boarded the bus, which dropped us off in the Franz Josef Glacier carpark, and the whole big group set off on a short hike through the rainforest, and then the rocky moraine leading to the glacier. They broke us up into 5 groups, based on what we thought our speed would be at for the day. Sarah and I chose the 3rd group because the guide was the cutest. He was from Denmark and had a weird Danish/Kiwi accent. It was trippy.
The glacier walk was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Franz Josef glacier is unique because it is a) the fastest retreating glacier in the world and b) it is among 3 that are adjacent to rainforest (Fox Glacier, right next door, is one of them). Even though it is quickly retreating, I don’t think that it will disappear anytime soon. It is 10 km long, and then leads to a lake that is 35 square kilometres. This is all solid ice. It does mean that the glacier changes very quickly though, and our guide pointed out the ways in which it had changed since the day before, or a few weeks prior. The guides would just swing their icepicks a few times, cut some stairs into the ice, and tell us to follow them. Like Milford Sound, everything is HUGE, so it is hard to judge distances. We ate lunch on the glacier, and then kept going. Rene (our guide), was torching it. We ended up passing the two groups that had started before us, and catching up to some of the group that had started an hour earlier. Turbo! We got to see a lot of really cool glacier features, and also see how this glacier had marked and formed the landscape. Even though we were surrounded by solid walls of ice at times, it was not too cold, and once we emerged from the crevasse, the sun would quickly warm us up. It was the perfect day for glacier exploring, and I had so much fun.
It is now March 12, and we are in Wellington. We had a lazy rainy day in Franz Josef the day following the hike (and almost ate a maggot-infested lunch. Our own fault, but it was still gross), then caught the bus to Nelson, and today went from Nelson, through Picton, on a ferry with a MOVIE THEATRE on it. In Nelson, the hostel we stayed at had the most awesome vegetarian restaurant in the basement. It was so delicious, and played good music, served good beer, and had things written all over the walls in chalk and sharpie. Definitely spent a good couple of hours there!
Only a week left, and I am sad. I was hoping to extend by 10 days, but it would have cost almost $900. Up on the wishlist for this week are skydiving and blackwater rafting in a glowworm cave. Hope it all works out!