New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 367 (177)

Fox Glacier

Thursday 10th March (2005)

We had a quick breakfast in the upstairs common room this morning and had the place all to ourselves. Packing and checkout was swift, putting us on the road by around nine-thirty. It had been raining through the night and the skies were still pouring down as we set off to the South towards Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Already I was starting to be thankful about changing our heli-hike booking the other day from today to tomorrow.

The trip down towards the glaciers was slow going with the weather being just about as miserable as it possibly could be. Our original plan was to spend some time in Franz Josef, which is near enough half way towards Fox Glacier, but when we got there, the low cloud cover and persistent rain pretty much precluded any possibility of seeing the glacier so we spent half an hour at the information office instead. As information offices go, this one is quite a nice one with plenty of good information on the glaciers and how they are formed. There was also an up to date weather posting which, thankfully, projected some much better conditions for tomorrow.

The roads down towards the glaciers were quite winding with sheer cliff faces going up and down from the road. This part of New Zealand receives by far the most rainfall than anywhere else in the country but even if we didn’t know this to be the case to begin with, the ferns and moss that cover every last square metre of cliff and rock pretty much gives it away. With all the rainfall that has been going on through the night and this morning, just about everywhere we looked was covered in waterfalls or streams of water coming down from the hills and mountains.

It was still raining when we arrived in the small town of Fox Glacier but it did seem to be getting lighter. With our accommodation already having been safely booked, we took the opportunity to explore some more backpackers and lodge accommodation places dotted around town but everywhere we tried was either fully booked or much more expensive than what we had already booked. It seems that this is one of the examples of where our guidebook has served particularly well. Having struck out at finding cheaper abode, we found our pre-booked place and checked in. At NZ$80 (€46,40), the Fox Glacier Holiday Park is the most expensive place we’ve stayed at in New Zealand so far but it is quite a bit cheaper than the nearest alternative here in Fox Glacier so I wasn’t particularly too upset by the steep price tag. I’d say we got a good deal for the money too. We have a self-contained unit complete with fully appointed bathroom as well as a kitchenette and all the usual conveniences. The bed is comfortable and has electric blankets as well as a wall-mounted electric heater. The cabin looks like it’s brand new. In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say that it’s the nicest place we’ve stayed in so far. They even gave us a free carton of milk to go with the tea and coffee already in the cabin. The icing on the cake is a carport right outside the cabin that has meant not having to get drenched whilst unloading the car.

After offloading the car and swiftly converting the pristine cabin into that ‘lived in’ look with our stuff all over the place, we popped back into town to the one small supermarket to load up on some provisions. With these, we were able to save a bit of money by cooking up our own meal. Since it was still raining quite hard, it seemed like a good idea to simply chill out in front of the laptop and a couple of DVDs from our selection. By the end of the second movie, the rain had ceased and the sun was starting to burst through. The breaking of the cloud created a dramatic change in both the outside scenery and general feel to the place so we got in the car and took a drive over to take our first look at the Fox Glacier. There are a couple of roads that lead up towards the glacier with the first taking us to a scenic lookout. We followed this road for a few Kilometres to its end and then walked a few minutes through the thick, wet vegetation down the hill to the lookout spot. The glacier looks impressive but we were both itching to get up close and personal with it so we drove back around to the other access road, where apparently there is a footpath that leads all the way up to the face of the glacier itself. When we got there, however, there was a rope barrier and a sign indicating the footpath was closed due to the fast flowing streams and rivers. Together with another older couple, we decided to follow the advice of a returning hiker and followed the footpath anyway. We made it about four fifths of the way to the glacier itself before the sun and temperature had dropped to the point that Sandy was no longer comfortable to continue. I was all keen to push on for another few minutes to try to reach the glacier itself but we’ll just have to save that excursion for another day. We are, after all, going to walk across the glacier itself tomorrow, weather permitting.

The older couple that we were walking with were very chatty and we spent the better part of half an hour exchanging travelling anecdotes with them back at the car park. The steadily declining temperature got the better of us eventually, though, and so we bid them farewell and set off back into town. I had a bit of a hankering for some chocolate, as you do, so we made another detour into the supermarket to pick up a few things for my fix. Just across the road from the supermarket is the heli-hike company and we popped in to ask a few questions about our excursion onto the ice tomorrow. They had some rather nice wind and rain jackets there for what seemed like a very reasonable price. For NZ$110 (€63,80), I picked up a nice jacket for myself. With the sense that we are now very much outside of the hot summer climate, a warm jacket suddenly feels very comfortable around my shoulders. I’ll probably know for sure after the heli-hike tomorrow if it was a good buy or not.