Friday, February 13, 2009

Franz Joseph Glacier

Today it finally rained.  And it rained lightly for the entire day.  So our drive up to the hotel near the Franz Joseph Glacier was dreary and we could not see much of what is certainly gorgeous mountain scenery.   But we are not complaining because New Zealand desperately needs rain.   The country has been in near-drought conditions for about 3 years.   At least we have internet and Sky TV to keep us entertained until the weather improves tomorrow, and we will see the beautiful vistas on our drive out of here.    Getting bored this afternoon I plotted our GPS locations for this little road tour and added the stops to date to our map on this website.   That got me to thinking about just how far south we are. 

We now are at the highest latitude that we will ever be during our circumnavigation.   In fact, where S/V BeBe is berthed back at the marina just north of Auckland is also farther south than we will be when we round the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa.  The southernmost point of Africa is approximately 34.56.0390 South.   We are currently at 43.24.84 South here at the glacier.  After this glacier visit we will begin backtracking northward and head east over to Christchurch.   We came down on the western side of both the North Island and the South Island and will return to our marina via the eastern routes.

We are now in the Southern Alps.  Gorgeous and very cool.   The mountains in New Zealand result from the collision between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and their location follows the boundary of the two plates.  Thus a continuous chain of mountains forms the axial part of the South Island, extending over 500 miles from the Kaikoura Ranges, through the length of the Southern Alps, to the southernmost corner of Fjordland.   We are not going any farther south than the Franz Joseph Glacier because there are only a few roads that cut across the Alps to the eastern coast.  We plan to take the most northern road across the top end of the alps to Christchurch on the eastern coast.  I would love to see the Fjorland area because it is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful; but it is also supposed to have very thick sandflies and I can’t handle those nasty bugs.  Another reason we are not going down there is that it would be a very long drive back and I am already itching to get back home to the boat.

Here is a good quote about the mountains of New Zealand:    "Pushed up in the collision of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, finely sculptured by westerly rains, and still showing the imprint of Pleistocene glaciations, New Zealand`s mountain landscapes are among the most dynamic and spectacular in the world.  Compared with the continental mountains of Europe and America the mountains are younger, much sharper textured, and are being shaped with a tempo that can be measured in decades rather than centuries or millenia" From I.E Whitehouse and A.J. Pearce: Shaping the Mountains of New Zealand.

The weather cleared during the late afternoon and we went into the small town of Franz Joseph.  Nothing much happening there except souvenir shops, bars and cafes, and at least a half-dozen helicopter tour shops.   I had thought we might do a helicopter ride over the Franz Joseph Glacier and the Fox Glacier.  Knew I would not get into a small plane for a sightseeing trip – did that in the Grand Canyon and was so sick I was ready happily to die – but thought I might be willing to try a helicopter ride through the mountainsides.    Bill suggested we watch a 20-minute movie of the glaciers which was filmed from a helicopter and then decide if I was still willing to fly in one.  Well, that was a good idea.  Saved him $360 because after watching that film there was no way I was getting into a helicopter.

Friday, February 13, 2009

This morning we drove as close as you can get to the glacier in a car.  Then we hiked to the glacier terminal face.   This was an easy hike because the uphill part was very limited.  You get to the terminal face by walking up the “riverbed” that extends from the bottom of the glacier.   The glacier is continually melting and releases this run-off at its base.   The trickles converge into several small streams; these streams eventually converge into a small river.

This process takes several miles before it becomes a rapidly flowing river that will definitely get your attention.    There were lots of waterfalls flowing down the mountainsides along the riverbed as we approached the glacier.    The overall effect made a very pretty scene with the glacier in the background.    Bill walked over to one of the waterfalls to test the water temperature and try a taste.  This water comes from the upper levels of the glacier and the snow on the mountaintops.   Bill said it was icy cold and that it tasted very good. 

We were stopped by a rope barricade about a quarter mile from the terminal face.   You are not allowed to go any closer without a guide and without the proper ice climbing gear.   We don’t have ice climbing gear because we don’t do that kind of thing.   Looking is more our purview.   There were signs pointing out that it is dangerous to go closer and that you must have a guide, but we watched more than a dozen people go beneath the rope barricade and walk all the way onto the glacier.  Yesterday in the town we read a newspaper article about a couple tourists who recently did that and ran into problems when the ice caved in on them.    They were rescued but the rescuers were angry that these “bloody stupid tourists” forced them to endanger their own lives to rescue 2 people who ignored the posted warnings about the danger.

The glacier does not look pure white; it has hues of blue and green that our camera could not capture.  I think these blues and greens are caused by light refraction and the greenish stones and rocks inside the glacier.  A glacier is not a static solid block of ice.  It is constantly melting and refreezing and creates tunnels and crevasses throughout the glacier.   The large rocks and boulders are ground and shifted around by the enormous pressures of the ice.   By the time the rocks reach the terminal face they are anywhere from the size of tiny pebbles to a few feet across.    I picked up one rock as a souvenir that contained the green and blue colors showing up in the glacier.

The Kiwis pronounce glacier strangely.   They pronounce it GLOSS-see-er.    People from the UK also pronounce geyser strangely.  They say geezer.    I explained to one UK girl that in the USA a geezer is an old man.   Can’t see how they get geezer out of geyser.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.