Bethany from Fox Glacier
I woke up in the middle of the night last night and crawled out of the small tent for a bathroom run. The sky was clear! Which gave me some optimism for today’s activities: photos of Mount Cook, glacier walking, and a helicopter ride. The sky on a clear night is spectacular. I’ve managed to see it a couple of times but Bryan just rolls over and ignores my “you have to see this” comments. Orion is out but otherwise this is a mostly unfamiliar sky to me.
When we did get up later (almost with the sun but not quite), we breakfasted and called a shuttle to take us to Lake Matheson about 6 km away.
Lake Matheson is famous for its mirror-like surface which reflects the Mounts Cook/Aoraki and Tasman. The water is deeply coloured by tannins from the surrounding vegetation and tends to be calm – two features contributing to the mirror properties. Bryan and I enjoyed a written tour of the surrounding botany, particularly the numerous types of ferns. This lake is also home to long-finned eels. We didn’t manage to see any but were intrigued by their life-cycle. These eels live in freshwater for up to 60 years but breed only once in their, near the end of their life. They leave the freshwater lake and swim to treches in the Pacific Ocean about 5000 km away to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch and the transparent little eels are distributed by the ocean currents.
The lake was a mirror for us and I did get some, hopefully good, pictures of Mount Cook/Aoraki and Mount Tasman.
We then proceeded to glacier walking which we did as part of a tour. The Fox Glacier and nearby Franz Josef Glacier are unique in that their terminal faces are in a rain forest. We were on our tour for over 4 hours but only spent 1 hour on the ice. The rest of the time was spent climbing to and from the acess point. There was a heavy rainfall in the area on November 26 with 1/2 meter falling in 24 areas. This caused a couple of rockslides in the glacial area and the glacial river surged and took out the road access and parking area. It took several weeks to gain reliable entry to the glacier afterwards and they still haved heavy equipment at work moving rocks to protect the new road. Walking on the glacier was interesting – the snow/ice is really quite dirty and rotten with rock debris and snow particulate. There is water flowing over the surface and then dropping into the depths of the glacier. The guides have made the path on the ice easy by cutting steps. Really the glacier part of the tour was the easiest.
While we were on the glacier, the clouds started to move in. We were afraid that this was going to ground our helicopter tour – and we were right. We have rebooked for 7:15 tomorrow am which makes for an early and busy am as we have a bus to catch northbound at 8:30. Plus we also have to pack up our tent. We’ll see how this goes. Tonight it is early to bed. For the first part of this trip, we were going to bed early. Since New Years that pattern has been broken.
Addendum January 10th: A few days after our visit to Fox Glacier two young men (brothers) where killed in an icefall at the terminal face. Unfortunately, they disregarded the safety barriers and warnings as many visitors commonly do. May they rest in peace.