New Zealand Nov 2004 trip – Fox Glacier walk

This is part of some travelling notes I wrote exactly 4 years ago for a trip to New Zealand in November 2004. Please enjoy the story.

Day 7, 12 November 2004, Friday

7:20am. Rise and shine. Didn’t have to get out of bed this early, but I was restless. And it was cold, so maybe walking a bit will warm me up. Ate another muesli bar and 4 biscuits. Food left as of now: 5 Snickers bars, 6 muesli bars and 4 biscuits. The muesli bars and biscuits were quite nice actually. Of course hunger is the best condiment, so anything goes.

While I was waiting till near the commencement of the glacier walk, this cat appeared outside my room and was just staring at me. I think it’s the motel owner’s cat because it loiters around the vicinity.

Milled around the motel room for a while, not knowing what to do, until 8:55am. The Alpine Guides lady said to wear 3 or 4 pieces of warm clothing, so I wore, in order, one T-shirt, one shirt, one long-sleeved shirt, and a wind-breaker. That ought to keep me warm. Wouldn’t want to lose unnecessary heat, what with the scarcity of food and all…

Slapped on plenty of sunscreen lotion on forearms and face. And chapstick on lips. Then went to the Alpine Guides station early, just to confirm my 10:30am walk (you never know…). It’s confirmed, then I remembered I prepared lunch (3 Snickers bars), but no water. *sigh* Mineral water (NZ2.10) at the general store. Tried using the American quarter as the 10 cents, but the cashier lady refused to accept it. I distinctly remembered it came from her. Never mind, took a twenty cent coin to get change.

Went back to motel room to rest. Went through my stuff again, and remembered I still have to pay the airport tax when departing New Zealand! Oh this is bad… At 10:10am, I went to the motel reception to ask what’s the departure tax. I got an NZ20.00 or NZ25.00 as an answer. Well, the former’s fine since it’ll leave me with about NZ10.00 for dinner in Christchurch. The latter will be devastating to my finances.

Dog. Not a dog person myself, but I took the shot because of the rarity of domestic pets in New Zealand. Disregarding sheep of course…

Waited at Alpine Guides for the glacier walk guide. 10:25am, a female guide came in, and told all of us going on the 10:30am walk to follow her. We went to the boots station, to get those mountain trekking boots. When asked about my shoe size, I sheepishly replied a 10. “UK 10?”. I just nodded (I don’t know…). Took a pair of their gray socks that seemed to match and tried on the socks and boots. Boots fitted nicely. Then the guide said to take one of their raincoats as well, in case it rains. And their backpacks if we don’t have any. Well, I’m pretty sure my wind-breaker can act as a rain-breaker, but my mind’s not working too well now. So I took a raincoat. I was then wearing 5 pieces of clothing…

The guide then handed us crampons. They’re metal spikes that we’re to attach to the boots. I took a pair, and climbed aboard their bus, which would take us to the glacier terminal (10 minutes). Terminal, as in end of the glacier.

There were 24 of us and 2 guides. On arrival, we split into two, and I ended up with the female guide from earlier on. She made us go round introducing ourselves, and to state one thing we want to do before we die. I didn’t get their names (but the guide did. Fantastic memory. Her name’s Jaya. Rhymes with fire, she says.), but there were people from Holland, Germany, America (Los Angeles). The Dutch (found out after we started walking) was actually living in Singapore, working as an engineer. He was involved in the Tuas land reclamation project. There was one who wanted to dance, one wanted to paraglide (did that :)), one wanted to go to Alaska, and one who wanted to hold a concert for his friends (plays the guitar). I didn’t know what to say, so I just mentioned doing the Milford Track or Kepler Track. Hah! Don’t think I’ll ever be able to do those. Now that I think about, what I really wanted was to come back to New Zealand again.

Jaya then told me to put the crampons in my bag first. Oh no! It’s kinda dirty, and my bag wasn’t suited to hold something spiky (I’ve got travel documents and stuff inside…). In the end, I sandwiched the crampons between my gloves and hoped for the best.

Fox Glacier
Glimpse of the ice river I’ll be walking on.

Champagne Creek, blurred
Champagne Creek. Bad shot, because of my precarious narrow perch then, and that I was blocking other people. The water’s flowing from the right to the left, and splashing upwards off of … something… probably a rock.

Fox Glacier neve
The patch of pure white ice near the centre is called the névé (nay-vay), the birthplace of the glacier.

Fox Glacier
This was near the closest point to the top where our guide could take us safely. Oh man, I look dorky…

We started the walk, with the first one and a quarter hour in the rainforest part climbing up into the glacier. The track was perilous at one point, with sheer cliffs dropping to the land below, and I was to hold onto the metal chains on the rock face. There was this Champagne Creek, which Jaya said flows drinkable water. I didn’t drink any, though I took a picture of it.

The temperature rose, and I took off the raincoat. Why did I take the raincoat, and why did I wear so many clothes? Reached near the glacier, and out of the rainforest. Jaya showed us how to wear the crampons. Wore them and continued.

Can’t remember when, but we passed by two barrels containing sticks with a metal rod at one end. They’re alpenstocks, and it’s used in the old days to help travellers on their way. The method to walk with crampons is to step hard onto rounded mounds of ice. The crampons are fitted under the centre of the boots, so it doesn’t make sense to walk on one’s toes or heels.

We passed by moulins (yes, same spelling as Moulin Rouge), which are water holes created by swirling melted ice. Some of them were pretty deep. Jaya told us not to rush to moulins, or ice caves or something to take pictures. She’ll let us know when it’s safe. I think that was partially directed at me… hehe…

The walk was fun, sometimes on flat areas, sometimes on thin high ledges, sometimes having to descend into narrow crevices. Jaya had to wreck some parts of the glacier with her ice pick to make steps for us on some occasions. One time, we even had to backtrack a little because there wasn’t any way forward (glaciers change every day, so one route that day may disappear the next.). Several times, she told us to stay put while she went surveying for possible routes.

Fox Glacier
Breathtaking view from the top of the glacier. I also have to walk back down… That, looks like a long walk…

Fox Glacier
Jaya, exploring and carving out new paths for us.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier
“Wow grandma, what big teeth you have!”

Vincent at Fox Glacier terminal
Back down at the glacier terminal.

Fox Glacier rocky path
And the treacherous, gravel-ridden descent I did.

Somewhere on the walk, Jaya pointed out a drinkable pool of melted ice. It tasted fresh and clean. We also stopped for lunch somewhere. I ate 2 of the 3 Snickers bars I brought, and drank some of the mineral water I bought in the morning.

Spent the rest of the early afternoon zig-zagging on the glacier. My shoulders started to ache with carrying the raincoat and my sling bag. I got two cuts on my right hand from the ice. I got a cut from a rock on my right lower leg. And my right boot kept cutting into my right lower calf. I was glad when we reached the glacier terminal again. Alpenstocks were returned somewhere on the return trip, and crampons removed. I just jammed the crampons in the raincoat and draped the entire thing over my bag.

Jaya told us to walk back to the bus at our own pace. It was a long walk! My right calf sort of feels like it’s rubbed raw, and I was afraid of it bleeding. But I pressed on. The raincoat and crampons slipped off somewhere. I just grabbed them and held on to them. Immediately my shoulders thanked me.

Lots of tourists passing me by (just the glacier terminal tour I think), and some of them looked curiously at me. I suppose it’s the crampons (they look kinda wicked). I hope I look like an accomplished hiker to them, because I’m dead tired by now. I reached the bus and turned around, and there, was Jaya! With her pack and tools, she’s got to be hauling a load heavier than mine, yet she caught up easily. She said it’s the result of doing it every day. I just wowed.

Proof of my ice tramping experience.

On the bus and back to town then. We returned everything we got from them (relieved to be wearing my shoes again. Much more comfortable than the boots). And we even got a certificate stating we survived the walk, signed by our guides! I was beaming at the certificate as I walked back to the motel.

It was now 5:30pm. I had dinner, made up of 2 muesli bars and the rest of the biscuits. Prepared for tomorrow’s check out. Planned the coach ride (will sit on right window seat because of possible nice scenery). Nothing for the TranzAlpine train ride. Probably sit on the left, and see if I can get pictures of Arthur’s Pass.

Horse outside Rainforest Motel
Clothed horse. To keep the four-legger warm? Or they really like their equine mammals…

I also smell. Oh no, I was smelly after the Dunedin walkathon. I was smelly after the Queenstown gondola track. Now, I stunk. The boots smell, the raincoat smell. Especially the raincoat. I got this rusty, musty mildewy air hovering around me. Showered, then laid out tomorrow’s breakfast (1 Snickers and 2 muesli bars). Turned in at 10:05pm.

Miscellaneous information given by Jaya: The Fox Glacier legend. Lady in mountains fell in love with fisherman at bottom of mountain. Brought him up to the mountains. When she went to the other side of the mountains (to look at sunset? Can’t remember.), he fell into the waters below and died (oh… 🙁 Jaya remarked about what a sentimental fella I am.). The lady was devastated. The gods were moved by their love, and transformed her tears into glaciers. The tears from her right eye became the Franz-Josef Glacier and those from her left eye became the Fox Glacier. The Fox Glacier was originally named Victoria Glacier after their queen, but later renamed to honour Sir William Fox.

New Zealand Nov 2004 trip – Glacier village

This is part of some travelling notes I wrote exactly 4 years ago for a trip to New Zealand in November 2004. Please enjoy the story.

Day 6, 11 November 2004, Thursday

Woke up at 5:45am before the wake up call at 6:00am. Ate the sandwiches I bought last night, which were pretty tasteless. Decided to check out early. Paragliding and jetboating, NZ255.00 translating to about $300.00 Singapore dollars. And the uh blinds “damage” I wrecked (nothing was deducted for it. Whew.)

Checked out, boarded the coach and yes, got a left window seat (prospects of viewing the Tasman Sea on the left). Left Queenstown at 7:40am, and made a brief 10 minute stop near Cromwell (Jone’s Fruit Stall). Nothing much to see, so didn’t bother climbing out of the coach.

Grape fields
Grapes, for making wine.

Sheep blocking road

Sheep blocking road
Coach-stopping sheep.

Somewhere on the ride, the coach slowed. What happened? Sheep happened! This herd of sheep wandered onto the road and rendered the strip of asphalt impassable. I don’t know if there were farmers or shepherds around, but the sheep dog was doing okay.

Puzzling World
Puzzling World.

Passed Luggate and Wanaka airport. Passed Puzzling World near Wanaka town, where one can see water running uphill.

Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka

Vincent at Lake Wanaka

Met a Mexican couple who helped take a picture of me at Lake Wanaka. Then we moved on and had another 10 minute break by Lake Hawea at 9:37am.

Ship crossing lake
Ship crossing Lake Wanaka. Or Lake Hawea. Can’t remember…

Makarora Country Cafe
Makarora Country Cafe.

Passed Albert town, and then saw Lake Hawea from afar. Stopped at Makarora for 20 minutes (10:34am). No money to buy anything. Oh yeah, stomach’s growling now…

Mountain, river, flat land

Haast Pass sign

Thunder Creek falls

Thunder Creek falls sign

Passed Makarora River while crossing bridge near Haast Pass. Stopped at Thunder Creek Falls at 11:30am (10 minutes) for more pictures.

Haast town outskirt
Rest stop at outskirts of Haast town. Took hot chocolate break on the other side of the building (right of picture).

Passed Haast town, then stopped at outskirts of the town (12:20pm-12:50pm). Finally got a hot chocolate for NZ3.00 and shared table (all other seats taken) with the Mexican couple from Lake Wanaka. They’re here for a honeymoon (two weeks in New Zealand, one week in Melbourne). They’re going to Franz-Josef Glacier, then taking TranzAlpine Express, then fly to Melbourne.

Around Tasman Sea shore

Around Tasman Sea shore

Around Tasman Sea shore

Around Tasman Sea shore
Tasman Sea and surroundings.

Coach continued journey and stopped for a scenic break (Tasman Sea!) from 1:10pm to 1:25pm. We moved again and passed Wakopohi River, then Lake Moeraki (means sleeping by day. Could be only 2 metres deep in some places).

Salmon farm
Salmon farm.

Crossed the Paringa River and stopped (again!) at Salmon Farm (2:13pm to 2:34pm). The nice Mexican couple actually offered me food! Uh, I sort of mentioned I was flat broke during my hot chocolate respite with them… I turned down the offer (a bit embarrassed). They just got married on 30 October. They’re good people. *sniff sniff*

Passed by small town of Bruce Bay, Parakeri Creek and Jacobs Rivers School. Alpine Fault extends 600 kilometres all the way to Milford Sound. We are now at the western side of Southern Alps. Annual snowfall at Fox and Franz-Josef glaciers: 45 metres. The two glaciers actually reach all the way to the rainforest region. The only other glacier doing this is in South America, Patagonia.

Passed several strips of water next: Mai Mai Creek, Dusty Miller Creek, Karangarua River, Black Creek (water’s really black!), Ohinatamatea River, Cook River (Waheka) and Fox River. Somewhere during the succession of creeks and rivers, we picked up someone in like the middle of nowhere. She came up, couldn’t find an empty seat, and plopped down beside me. She put on her head phones immediately.

Things were a little quiet until we reached the Fox Glacier village. During the time between letting off the first batch of tourists and the second (my stop), I found out the young woman beside me had been hiking up Mount Tasman. 17 kilometres up and 17 kilometres down! Wow. She’s going back to her hostel at Franz-Josef village.

Rainforest Motel room
Behind the counter is a small fridge where I kept the muesli bars and biscuits. That sink was where I ate my breakfast/dinner muesli bars and biscuits…

A pure shower! I’m sick of two-in-one shower/bathtubs…

The open nature of the room.

Rainforest Motel sign
Rainforest Motel. Love this place!

Fox Glacier town map
Fox Glacier town map.

Reached my stop, said goodbye to her, passed the Mexican couple (they’re asleep) and checked into Rainforest Motel at 3:30pm. It was drizzling. I got room number 1, and it’s the most unusual place I have ever stayed at. Spacious and transparent (the entire room is visible if you don’t draw the curtains). I rested for a while since it was raining anyway, and my legs and feet haven’t quite recovered from the Dunedin walkathon and Queenstown gondola trek.

Rain stopped. I went to Alpine Guides to place a reservation for the glacier walk tomorrow. It’s fully booked!! Argh! Oh no! The lady at the counter can put me on a waiting list (Amazing Race déjà vu here) on the 9:30am and 10:30am walks. I was the third on hold for both full day (6 hour) walks. Seeing my disappointment, she said she could also put me on the 1:45pm half day walk, which I can be confirmed for. I agreed and thanked her. With a heavy heart and equally heavy feet, I went in search of dinner.

Fox Glacier Visitor Centre
Fox Glacier Visitor Centre. Not a lot of people this time of year.

Walked around town first, though the main purpose is to check out the dinner prices. I’m broke, remember? Everything’s expensive. I resigned to my fate and chose The Plateau. Sat at the restaurant from 4:35pm to 5:00pm (dinner’s served at five). Read through some of the problems in my Amazing Logic Puzzles book. 5:00pm came, and I ordered a smoked salmon (NZ15.50), and when she asked what I’d like to drink, I said orange juice. What was I thinking!! NZ4.00 gone. I only realised what I did five minutes after I ordered…

Finished dinner and went to local general store. Bought 8 Mother Earth muesli bars (NZ4.05, apricot and yoghurt) and 12 peanut-chocolate biscuits (NZ3.60). Went back to Alpine Guides to ask if being a Thrifty Tours (my tour package) customer gave me a discount for the glacier walk (it’s written on my itinerary. Any discount’s good at this point.). She said yes (NZ5.00 off the NZ85.00 price), and asked if I wanted to pay then. I said I’m actually on the waiting list. She checked, and told me I’m now in! I’m on the 10:30am walk! Yay! I paid the NZ80.00 with a lighter state of being (the glacier walk was the highlight of my trip).

Football field


Fox Glacier-Weheka school

Local residents

Horse and rider

Walked back to motel, and decided to walk a little further to see what’s up. And the fact that it’s still early, and I’m still kinda depressed about my current financial quagmire. Took some pictures of local school children at outdoors games lesson, cows, and a horseback rider. Then I went back to the motel.

I took out everything I’ve got. NZ33.85. Well NZ33.75 and … an American quarter. I guess the general store lady either couldn’t tell the difference (the NZ0.10 has similar size and colour as the quarter), or they’re of equal value. Or she’s conning me.

I gathered my receipts and notes, and added all my expenses. They pretty much add up. So tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch and dinner are gonna be a mixture of Snickers bars, muesli bars and biscuits. Took out one muesli bar and 4 biscuits to eat. Gonna have to eat like this till I reach Christchurch two days later…

I don’t have to wake up early tomorrow. Nothing to do, nothing to see. I was told a bus can take me to Lake Matheson and back. But it costs NZ10.00. No option there. So I’ll sleep in a little, and rest my weary body.