Tales of a wandering lesbian


When I decided to go to New Zealand, it was on short notice, with very little research.   I was filling in, so I hadn’t studied maps or routes.  I had, however, visited the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, and seen all of the Lord of the Rings movies several times.  This gave me the impression that I would find amazing, tattooed warriors playing rugby with elves.  This wasn’t entirely true.

One thing I didn’t realize is how close the South Island of New Zealand is to Antarctica.  This geo-position became more and more clear as we drove further south.  Lush forests and tropical-looking plants remained, but now they gave way not only to mountains, but to glaciers.  Glaciers!

Yes, I’ve been to Glacier National Park.  I’ve walked out onto the snow and ice, next to lounging mountain goats.  But something about New Zealand is more.  Not the way Rome is more with its lights and bustle.  Not the way Texas is more with its big.  New Zealand is more in its ruggedness.  It feels like the wild west.  Like driving our little campervan around the country was an expedition.  As though we could, at any moment, discover a velociraptor in the undergrowth.

Our first stop for glacial admiration was the Franz Josef glacier.   We drove into the park, past signs that told us where the glacier was 200 years ago, 100 years ago, 25 years ago, and into a lot full of vans.  As usual, ours was the most interesting – save the ICEBREAKER van parked down the way!

I flashed a smug smile, counting how many layers of the merino sweaters I was wearing as we passed, entering a thick canopy of dense trees.

The alder enveloped us, tall, thin trunks reaching up, covered in the white lichen that indicates extremely pure air.  Stepping out a short while later, we found ourselves faced with a naked, scouring wind rushing across the glacier and down the valley.  And opposite us, the glacier.

The trail took us out across the glacial valley, over the rocks ground down and deposited by the retreating ice.  Waterfalls surrounded us, falling gracefully and freely from the steep valley walls, creating micro vistas of startling beauty.

As we approached the glacier took shape and color, transforming from black and white to shades of blue.

A rushing sound intensified, now less the sharp lines of the wind, and more the rock-shaped sounds of water moving hard, pushing up from the bottom of the glacial face.

The water was nearly unnoticeable until we got close.  It was the color of the rocks, its shape masked as it ran through the rubble, following a course that appeared haphazard, ready to change at a moment’s notice.  Posted signs gave testament that the glacier could, in fact, change itself and the river in a metamorphosis of rock and ice gushing forth into the valley.

Sufficiently awed, we turned back to the trail.

Though our next destination was the Fox glacier, we took a recommended detour to a nearby lake known for its amazing reflected views of the surrounding mountains.  Though the trail was littered with interesting flora, the lake itself was unyielding.  The clouds had come in, leaving no mountain views, and perhaps the only less-than-perfect weather day of the entire trip.

We acknowledged the excellent fern trees and made a run for the car as drops began to fall from the sky.

By the time we reached Fox Glacier, the rain had cleared, leaving a foggy residue clinging to the edges of the valley.

While our last lake experience had been a bit of a disappointment, Fox brought us a watery surprise.

Lakes, eerily blue, greeted us at the trailhead, our first experience of the glacial blue waters of New Zealand.

This glacier allowed us closer, more textured views.

The experience was cold and stark and strangely peaceful.  Which was good, because 20 minutes later we found ourselves running from swarms of sand flies on the West Coast.  Literally running.

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January 6, 2011   Comments Off on Glaciers!