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.