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Monday 15 Mar 2004
Glacier Country, New Zealand

Foxy Glacier!

After entering the last diary 2 days ago, I decided to explore... Nearby to the village is Franz Josef glacier itself! It was quite possible to drive up to within 500 metres of the glacier "entrance" and, from here, you walk along a path toward a fantastic view of the glacier and gorge. Its really quite stunning and almost surreal. Like walking beside a gigantic outdoor painting.

Walking through the gorge amidst steep cliffs and waterfalls toward the passage containing sloping blue-ish ice offers some fantastic views... I spent a good hour doing the 20 minute walk cuz I was stopping to admire the view every 2 mins!

A rope at the base of the glacier prevents people from OFFICIALLY crossing to get up close to the glacier, but I and a few others asked a guide and he said it would be no problem to walk up to the glacier (for free I might add) as long as you dont walk on the ice... The route up towards the glacier front was slippy and steep, but once you get close, standing on a slope so that the valley runs out behind you, its a photo-perfect moment (that "Kodak" moment you always dream of!).

It was getting late, was getting progressively rainier, and I hadnt brought my camera (doh!) so I decided to revisit the site another day when the weather picks up. That night I decided to drive off to Gillespies Beach where there is a DOC camping site. It was beside Fox Glacier (which is a little below Franz Josef) and I thought it would only be a short drive. How wrong I was...

Driving to Fox village involved a variety of steep climbs for the poor old car, it actually took about one hour to reach the village itself! Then the drive to Gillespies Beach was along a gravel road.. again another no no for my precious car (although, it has to be said, the gravel roads in NZ are NO WAY as bad as the dust roads in Oz!!). Still I continued on.. finally I arrived at the beach and found the beach to be at a beautiful location (backed by a view of the snow-capped Southern Alps!). I guess it wasnt all bad despite having used up a larger quantity of petrol than was cost-effective!

The beach wasnt quite "problem-free" though: I soon found the beach was plagued with pesky sand-flies... oh what fun I had trying to cook my dinner that night. I ended up having to cook my pasta INSIDE my car.. a bit dangerous, but necessary.

The next day I spent most of the time chilling out and getting clothes cleaned in Fox Glacier village. Fox Glacier town is MUCH more laid-back than the Franz Josef village... and a great place to relax (its also plagued by sand-flies, but certainly not as much as at Gillespie Beach!). Ive been using the Fox Glacier Inn hostel to get my free showers and laundry done. That night I camped out at the FAR better spot on the road toward Gillespie beach at the "Peaks Lookout" just after the road becomes gravel... its got a fantastic view of Mt Cook and snow-capped alps (when the weather is cleared up.. which it STILL hasnt!). Its really quite uncanny how the dramatic alps are so close to the seaside, apparently its the only place on Earth where this happens.

Today I woke up in the midst of some blustery weather (yep NZ is fairly psichzo (spelling?) when it comes to weather.. one minute its blistering hot, half hour later its pouring down!). Soon it cleared up, and I knew Id have to take advantage of this clear gap to tour around, so I decided to take in Fox Glacier. A lot of people say that this glacier is not quite as amazing as Franz because its not as "clean" and has a lot of sediment. Certainly there is a lot of sediment, but the Fox glacier (looking remarkably similar to the other) is a beautiful sight! Even moreso in some respects, since (as Ill mention next) you can get REALLY up close and personal for free.

Thats right, again there was a rope barring my access, but I slipped through (while other non-adventurous tourists watched on in envy) and I climbed up the west side of the glacier via the rocks. This time I climbed well up beside the lower quarter (where the half-day tour goes for 65 dollars!) and got some amazing shots of the glacier.. I had the entire place to myself since I didnt see any tours nearby.

Ten minutes later, the weather turned again and the mild weather became a torrentous storm. I managed to scramble on down the hill and made it back to the car safely!

..written the next day...

Gah! More bad weather... I think Ill spend today just hanging around Fox Glacier village, and try the Franz Josef tommorrow.. in the meantime Ive started reading an excellent book by John Simpson, the BBC reporter, called "Strange Places, Questionable People". I was given it by a girl Id met at Cape Reinga, though havent gotten to read it till now. His explanation for why he enjoys travel and dangerous reporting abroad so that he has stories to tell really matches my reasons for doing the same. A great travelling read!

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