Danny Yee >> Travelogues >> New Zealand South Island 2002

Franz Joseph glacier

At the hostel I became a YHA member, since the savings over the trip seemed likely to come to more than the membership fee, dumped my gear, and headed off at once to do the walk out to Roberts Point, a viewpoint over the glacier.

I walked to the start of the glacier road where I quickly got a hitch to the track start with an American driving through. The track was quite nice, with a few ups and down and some swing bridges along the way, but it was rather hot and very humid and there were lots of people around. At the end is a viewpoint looking out over the glacier and a waterfall on the other side of the valley - too peaceful a spot for even the helicopters to intrude. At the viewpoint I met a group of three Germans, who gave me a lift back to Franz Joseph village in their campervan when we finished the walk.

I went off to Ferg's Kayaks, where there's a Internet cafe in a dismounted bus, had dinner in a cafe, and spent the evening reading in the hostel common room.

Wednesday February 13th

I woke up at 7.10am, had breakfast, and turned up for the guided glacier tour ($80 with the YHA discount). There were about fifty of us altogether, but after walking some way across the moraine we were sorted by fitness into groups of ten. I ended up in the notionally fittest group with a young Israeli couple, a pair of Canadian girls, an American and an assortment of others. It was another hot day and I wore shorts and tshirt; I had no sunglasses and didn't miss them, but then I was the only person with a real hat.

The guided walk on Franz Joseph glacier involves wandering around crevasse-cut icefalls, mazes whose geography is changing all the time. There were people at work with pickaxes rebuilding trails and cutting steps, and when we wandered off existing routes our guide cut new ones. With the crampons on and with an ice axe it was amazing how easy it was to walk on ice. It was a fantastic experience. [The guides claimed that only here and in Chile can one be on a glacier surrounded by rainforest, but my friend Cameron Laird says there are others in Alaska and wonders about Nepal.]

David and Veronica didn't turn up for the walk, but while on the glacier I met, in different groups, several of the others I'd met in Hokitika - Ken and Bec, Ann, and Zoe. There were enough people on the glacier that at times crevasse junctions could have done with traffic controls.

After the walk I had a shower and read for a while, then went back to the Internet cafe, where I discovered one of the machines (the server) was a Linux box and fixed some Netscape configuration problems on it for the manager. Then, having found out where they were staying on the glacier, I found Bec, Ann, and Zoe and had dinner with them in the pub.

The conversation was a pleasant change from "where are you going? where have you come from?", wandering from the history of science to Vikram Seth and The Lord of the Rings. (Well, Ann and I discussed The Lord of the Rings: the others, not being that enamoured of it, were making bets on how long we could spend on the topic.) It was rather comfortable and felt almost as if they were old friends. This is perhaps not surprising: they were pretty laid back and came from the same background as the vast majority of my friends - female Australian university graduates with an academic orientation.

Thursday February 14th

I woke up at 7, but the hostel office didn't open till 8, so I went back to bed until it did and I could book a place on the morning bus to Wanaka. I then went to see if Bec/Ann/Zoe wanted to do breakfast, but they just wanted to sleep - ooops! So I had a lazy breakfast in the cafe while waiting for the bus at 10.

On the way south the bus stopped at a salmon farm for morning tea. Here I noticed that the fish were going counter-clockwise around the four pools they had, and the staff told me that only one group in 16 years had ever gone the other way - but that that group did so even when moved between ponds. Coriolis Effect obviously explains the counter-clockwise direction, but perhaps a group that (against the odds) starts going the other way will end up with muscles adapted for swimming that way? We could test this by transfering adult fish across hemispheres and observing what happens.

In Haast we picked up a Canadian civil engineer (Oliver), who sat next to me. He was cycling around, but felt like a break, having ridden all the way from Fox Glacier to Haast the previous day. We discussed different approaches to sewage and water systems. Once over Haast pass the scenery changed drastically - it was now all bare hillsides and sheep. We stopped at a roadside cafe in Makaroa for lunch before continuing on to Wanaka.

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