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Christchurch, Arthurs Pass, Franz Josef, Fox Glaciers

World Trip Two

Tuesday, April 14, 2009: Kaikoura-Christchurch, New Zealand

The ride on the bus from Kaikoura to Christchurch was very pleasant and once again gave us the opportunity to see the beautiful New Zealand countryside. We arrived late in the center of town and as the town is not very big it was just a short walk to our hotel. We discovered a Sushi restaurant on our way and ate raw fish for dinner; ending a long but releasing day. We were finally released from the monster truck.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009: Christchurch-Arthurs Pass, New Zealand

Craggy mountains.

We picked up our rental car without a problem and made the drive from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass. Arthurs Pass is high in the northern part of the Southern New Zealand Alps.

Scree fields.

The only word I can think of that even comes close to describing the scenery is majestic. New Zealand itself and the Alps more obviously, are the result of uplifted ancient seafloor. The mountains in this part of the range are made of sandstone and mudstone both of which are rather soft rock. Because of this the mountains are crumbling at about the same rate they are being pushed upwards by tectonic action. This makes for a very unique landscape. Vast scree fields are strewn about below and completely cover the sides of the mountains.

The additional forces of glacial sculpting formed massive scree filled river valleys. Some of the mountains have such steep sides and loose surfaces that no flora of any kind can take hold on them. This gives the appearance of an enormous manmade quarry.

More New Zealand beauty.

Once at Arthurs Pass we went out on a hike. We chose the Avalanche Mountain walk, as its trailhead is just behind the information center. This is a 6 to 8 hour loop that climbs almost straight up the side of the mountain then goes on to the peak and then returns by Scotts trail. We did not have the time, or the weather, to do the complete hike so we chose to walk for two hours on it. We walked through native forests filled with Kia and Parakeets. We also encountered four magnificent waterfalls along the way.

The first hour had us climb, and at times rock climb, 2,000 feet above the valley floor. We got just to the edge of the tree line when the weather and time made us turn around and head back down. As we walked and climbed we heard the loud cracking sound made by distant rock slides from the surrounding mountains; the process of mountain crumbling at work. This was a brilliant walk and the end of a great day.

We spent the night in our hotel room well sheltered against the harsh weather that came in later that night. The weather around Arthurs Pass is notorious for changing very quickly; it proved true to form this night.

Arthurs Pass Video

Thursday, April 16, 2009: Arthurs Pass-Franz Josef-Fox Glacier, New Zealand

It was my 51st birthday today. Thank you everyone for your kind emails and ecards. And thank you David and Mary for your card, which Julia diligently carried half way around the world to present to me when I awoke this morning.

The word to best describe our drive from Arthurs Pass to Fox Glacier could only be: wet. It rained all day and did not stop until we finally reached our destination. Not just drizzle but pouring rain and high gusty winds. This part of New Zealand is known for its rain but even the locals told us it was unusual.

The rain caused everything to flow.

But we drove from 9:00am until 2:00pm over flooding roads and single lane bridges, which would be cause for concern on a dry day. We did not see much of the countryside as it was mainly obscured by clouds. But the bits we did see confirmed the high rainfall in the area as the flora is very lush and green.

The Franz Josef glacier looming in the distance.

We stopped at Franz Josef to eat lunch and see the glacier there. We took the half hour return walk, in pouring rain, to a spot that offered views of the glacier. It was difficult to see in the weather but was still a stupendous sight to behold.

Glacial ice filled a huge distant valley and then turned sharply into a fast flowing river of brown water filled with ice chucks. After this we continued our drive to Fox Glacier which was only half an hour further on. As we pulled up at our motel the skies cleared and the rain finally stopped. We hope to hike on the glacier tomorrow, but this will depend on the ever present and controlling weather.

Rainy Drive Video

Friday, April 17, 2009: Fox Glacier, New Zealand

A raging torent.

We had steady rain all day today; going from light drizzle to heavy rain. But the hike on the Fox Glacier went ahead despite the weather. We were given a short brief about the dangers involved when walking to, on, and from the glacier. Things such as house size boulders tumbling down the cliffs to the valley below where we would be walking.

Flash flooding was also an issue especially given the weather today. Falling into a crevasse was a possibility. The chance of having to wade through fast flowing water up to our knees did not sound too appealing either; but we agreed. Not sure why?

We got very close, and near the glacier too.

Soon we were on the bus all snug in our waterproof jackets and pants. It did not take long and we were disembarking and walking in the torrential rain on the path to the glacier. It was amazing to see water pouring out of the cliff walls all around us. And the scree filled rivers flowing all around us in full whitewater display. We were told to move very quickly across the track that crossed the "Gun Barrel" as this was a high risk avalanche area. Sure enough, no soon than we had cleared the "Gun Barrel", several avalanches occurred one after the other raining down automobile sized boulders. Fortunately for us we were well clear.

The rumbling sound was incredible even louder than in Arthurs Pass and my tummy. But we eventually came to a flash flooding river which turned out to be impassable. Our guides tried to cross it, and scared all of us with the thought they might ask us to do the same. They gave up on their first attempt and tried several other locations; none of which proved any better. In the end they gave up all hope of crossing the heaving, angry water, and we were all very glad of it. We got much closer to the glacier than most would have on a day like today and I was happy about that, but a little disappointed we did not get to walk on the mighty iceberg. Still we really did get down into the business of glacial activity, up close and personal, with mountain carving and valley forming; amazing.

Fox Glacier Video

Trip stats

Miles Flown: 7,111

Miles Hiked: 57

Miles Driven: 932

Miles Sailed: 89


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