New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 368 (178)

Fox Glacier

Friday 11th March (2005)

Another one of those precious opportunities struck again this morning with the absence of the need to check out and nothing to do until this afternoon. Put these two things together and you end up with a long, lazy sleep in – bliss! Our self-contained unit sits next to a paddock with a few horses wandering around. I seemed to attract the attentions of one of the more curious of the huge beasts that came over for a bit of petting. I didn’t think a few bits of apple and carrot would go amiss and he seemed to enjoy them too. What a lovely way to start the day.

The main attraction for today is the long-awaited heli-hike onto the Fox Glacier ice flow. We drove over to the building where we were to check in but it was still a little early and we were told that they wouldn’t even confirm that the trip would go ahead until the weather check ten minutes before departure. The weather today is absolutely gorgeous but we still had to wait for the official go-ahead anyway. This eventually came and I forked out NZ$245 (€142,10) each for the helicopter ride up and onto the ice flow, where we would spend the next couple of hours or more hiking around the glacier. This is another one of those budget-busting activities but when else will we ever get the opportunity to walk on a glacier?

As someone who tends to feel the cold much more than anyone else, Sandy was issued with a pair of mittens and a woolly hat. Somewhat surprisingly, nobody asked for her to sign a waiver after learning that she was three months pregnant. Once everybody was assembled, a very old bus took us over to the helipad, where we were each issued with a pair of hobnail boots and some woollen socks. There were twenty-two people in our group and it took two helicopters two trips each to ferry us all to the glacier. As each helicopter came back to collect more passengers, it brought back a half dozen people that were just finishing their heli-hike. The helicopters are thus put to very efficient use. At Sandy’s request, we were in the last helicopter flight out to the glacier so as to minimise the time standing around on the cold ice, waiting. The flight up to the glacier took somewhere between five and ten minutes and the pilot did his best to fly us around some of the glacier’s main features before setting down on a makeshift helipad. As we landed, all the other hikers that were already there were crouched down and facing away from the helicopter. This was because of the wind from the rotors blowing up a storm and sending small fragments of ice flying in all directions. Once set down, we were handed over to two guides that issued us all with crampons, a sort of metal spike that is strapped to our feet, and a mountaineering stick for stability as we walked. The guides spend most of the day up on the glacier and I was surprised at just how few clothes they were wearing compared to all the visiting tourists. The sun was out and I felt the need to start to remove some of my layers of clothes already due to the heat. The temperature up on the glacier is only a couple of degrees lower than down in the village. Since our feet were well and truly protected from the elements, we really didn’t need all the extra clothing to protect us from the cold after all.

The entire group was separated into two groups of eleven people and one guide took each group off in a different direction across the ice. We were all instructed to follow in the footsteps of the guide without deviation, so as to prevent anyone from falling into a crevice to their deaths. The undulations of the ice were fairly easy to navigate initially but as we steadily climbed farther up the glacier, it became more and more difficult to find a route through. Every now and then, our guide would stop us all, have a good wander around up ahead and then instruct us to backtrack a bit to look for a different path through. The ice flows up to four meters per day and the crevices and peaks are constantly changing shape, depth and even location. Although it looks static, the entire ice sheet, which is several hundred metres deep, is constantly changing and shifting. As he slowly moved forward, he would often use his ice pick from time to time to chisel out steps so as to make it easier for the rest of the group to follow without loosing our footings.

Walking around on the glacier was absolutely fascinating. We explored crevices and undulations in the ice that were truly amazing. Most spectacular of all were all the mysteriously blue ice caves that are constantly forming as the ice sheets move around. We found several that ranged in size from those that you could just about see through to those that were large enough for several people to get inside and explore. We spent about three hours on the ice and the guide never walked more than a very slow walking pace. It was also nowhere near as strenuous as I thought it might be and even Sandy was happy with the progress that we made. I had initially needed to open my jacket and outer shirt layer because of the heat but it didn’t take long after the sun started to disappear before the temperature dropped to the point that we were all commenting on just how cold is was getting all of a sudden.

As we were wandering around the ice and exploring caves, another helicopter dropped off what looked like a Japanese film crew. It looked like a couple of Japanese presenters were being filmed. Accompanying the film crew and presenters was an older guy. This turned out to be none other than world famous Mike Brown. Not only was he the owner of the heli-hike company but he’s also a noted New Zealand mountaineer who has, amongst other things, scaled Mount Everest.

After our few hours of wandering around and exploring the Fox Glacier, we made our way back to the makeshift helipad. Once again at Sandy’s request, we were in the first helicopter off the ice, after the film crew had first been collected from their charter helicopter. We flew back down to base, a trip that was quite a bit faster than the ascent, where we returned out hobnail boots and woollen socks. We had to wait for the remainder of the group to be ferried back down and the bus to take us back to base. All in all, it was a very successful afternoon and very much worth the effort. We topped off the day with a very nice steak dinner in an out of the way restaurant, away from the much higher priced eateries on the main road. Our day was complete – or so I thought!

Sandy wanted to call her mother to tell her all about our amazing experience on the glacier and so spent half an hour on the phone doing so. In chatting with my mother-in-law, it transpired that the company where we have had the camper-van parked has been trying to get hold of us. According to them, we owe them €600 for the cost of parking the camper with them for beyond the contract term. I was originally under the impression that we had paid them for a year in advance but not according to them. Worse still, they say that the camper must be moved by the end of March. After chatting with Dinie in Holland about all of this, I called the lawyer who is handling the camper-van sale case to see what we should do. To cut a long story short, the lawyer has not handled everything to our satisfaction. We had sold the camper-van and had the new owners sign a contract. The new owners decided, however, that they didn’t want the camper-van after all and left it with us – even though we have the signed contract. The whole mess has been in the hands of our lawyer ever since. Just before we left in September, we met with the lawyer to go over the game plan for how to resolve the problem and he was instructed to proceed against the new owners to force them to comply with the contract. He now tells me, however, that he decided it not prudent to continue with the case until our return. He furthermore claims that he discussed this with us and that we all agreed on this, even though this is not what we remember. Additionally, he had originally told us that it was worth proceeding with pursuing the new owners given the fact that they had just taken out a mortgage on their house. He now claims that since the house is 100% mortgaged, there is little chance of us seeing the money owed to us. I had a very heated debate with him on the phone this evening about these apparent misunderstandings and all I got from him was an assurance that he had told us all of this beforehand and that we had all agreed on the course of action he is now taking. The problem is that we are now half way around the world and now confronted with the dilemma of what to do about the bill for the storage of the camper. I’m tempted to tell the storage company that they need to contact the new owners for the storage costs but the problem is that we technically still own the vehicle. I we don’t pay up, I’m not sure what the consequences then would be. The whole thing is a very sudden and intense headache that I now have to somehow deal with. Dinie has kindly offered to look into some alternative storage options but the whole thing is a complete mess again and now we learn that there may not be a light at the end of the tunnel either. It seems that our world has just been tipped upside down and there is nothing we can do about it.