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New Zealand, Part 3: Glaciers by land and air

Following a long intermission, we’re back on the road in New Zealand. Our next stops were the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers on the west coast of the south island.

Our trusted vehicle of choice.

I was shocked yet again by the smallness of Franz Josef as a town. We stayed at the best place of the trip, the fantastic Alpine Glacier Motor Lodge. It had a little kitchen where we could make breakfast instead of spending a lot of money. The shower was also divine, and super hot.

The first day, we hiked the Fox Glacier, which you can still hike to, unlike the Franz Josef glacier, which has receded so much, you can only be helicoptered in to hike. An interesting note about the glaciers is that to get there, you go up a tropical rainforest. So in the span of a couple of minutes you go from driving in the jungle to rocky terrain to glacier.

The sun was setting as we descended from the glacier, and the light on the mountains nearby and the ice was stunning — a setting right out of The Lord of the Rings. We were pretty happy with the hike, although a bit short and not very informative. I think the guides, bless them, are mostly comprised of young hippies who don’t seem particularly interested in the science behind the glaciers, or the history of the region. But they were nice people, so all is well. Most of the people that live and work in Franz Josef are seasonal, young workers, who come for a year or two to be guides, work at restaurants, and cater to tourist. We were at a brewery when the guy who owns the place offered us jobs waitressing.

Should I quit my job and stay in New Zealand?

One night, around 3 am, we awoke to what sounded like a tsunami alarm. It wasn’t the hotel’s fire alarm; it was a town-wide alarm. It was slightly disconcerting, because we were in this small, isolated town next to a glacier, so all sort of possibilities seemed likely. The other guests were also coming out of their rooms, confused as to whether the alarm meant we needed to flee. I remember thinking: flee to where? There’s nothing for hours and hours. Courtney called the 911 equivalent, who didn’t seem concerned at all, and said that sometimes in small towns like Franz Josef, that’s how the wake up the volunteer firefighters. Yes, a town-wide tsunami alarm to wake up the 2 or 3 volunteer firefighters. At any rate, we survived the night sans avalanches and indeed the alarm was to alert the volunteer force of an accident down the road.

Oh New Zealand, I miss you.

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