Our departure from Greymouth went well. After the briefest stop in Hokitika, where I was heartbroken to find a — are you ready for this? — sock knitting machine museum, that we couldn’t visit bcause we had to keep going, we stopped at the Bushman’s Centre where, among other things, we learned that New Zealand has rednecks too! It was quite an interesting (if sometimes scary) display, where we got to meet this little critter…
You know what it is right? It’s one of New Zealand’s least wanted: a possum. Those scary, teethy, bitey, verminous creatures. Yuck. Cute though, when they’re sleeping and you can’t smell ’em. Of course, I say that, but am still undauntedly eager to buy possum-blend yarn because as smelly and gross as possums may be, their fur is super soft and delicate. They were introduced to get a fur trade going after all!
Soon after lunch, we pulled into the lovely, sleepy ski-resort-feeling town of Franz Josef. We were welcomed by the resident hostel kitty (nearly every hostel seemed to have one!) who, I’m pretty sure, never left the couch during the time we were there. His name was apparently Milkshake — who knew that cats had worldly cousins?
After that, it was just a little time to stow our stuff, and we were off to the glacier! Along with one somewhere in Patagonia (I think in Argentina somewhere?), the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are alone in the world as being glaciers at the foot of which can be found rainforests. One of the many things I’ve been learning on this trip is what constitutes a rainforest. There aren’t nearly as many C4 plants as I’d expected and way fewer vines, but it is definitely still rainforest. Sadly, the weather for our trek wasn’t ideal, but we gamely set off anyway!
After all, it’s not every day we get the chance to walk on a glacier!
(Note: when the guide had described this excursion as a walk through rainforest, followed by a steep climb up the rocks and scree, before getting to “walk around on the glacier” I had kind of been picturing, you know, walking on the glacier. As if it were flat. Kind of like the way cartoon penguins and polar bears walk around on ice, except with crampons. Not so much. The Boy and I were totally unprepared for how chaotic and, well, alive the structure of the glacier was. Altogether it made for a way more interesting time, but boy was I surprised!)
I’m not sure even now that I really have the words to describe it. I have some words: cold, drizzling, cold, lens-fogging, cold, awesome, cold, very beautiful… you get the idea. Not sure I can really get across the way it felt though, to be walking up, over, through something so big, so old and yet… that still changes daily — our guide kept chiseling away at the “path” with that pick as we went — and despite being down in the older, dirtier foot of it all, we were still often surprised with shots of bright blue, clean, gorgeous ice.
Even photos don’t do it justice. I tried, but my fingers were cramped and stiff from the cold, and although you can’t tell in the photos, it was raining steadily the entire time so between shots, I was wiping water off the lens and cramming my camera in my jacket to protect it.
If you’d told me beforehand that I would have found a hike up to and on a glacier as amazing as it was, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But I would have been wrong.