Jun 172012
 

Here’s a little display of the many colors and textures in the rocky riverbeds and temperate rainforest leading up to the glaciers. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful quartz intrusions in the wet granite, or the bright lichens peeking out of crannies.

Jun 132012
 
A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

A moment of perfect light against this cliff face, caught by Iain

Day two started early, leaving Hokatika just after sunrise to arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier by 9:30 AM, in time for our scheduled helicoptor ride! We got there with time to spare, but were greeted with disappointing news: the weather wasn’t good enough to make the run up. Come back in three hours?

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

A rainbow of lichen grows on these rocks.

So, we went for a nice hike along the glacial riverbed that leads up to Franz Josef, got some great shots of unique rocks, waterfalls, and cliff faces, and headed back to town with a shred of hope that the cloud cover would miraculously part in time for our flight. No such luck. The office staff suggested we book again for the following morning. Despite the predictions for worsening weather, we decided to give it another chance. We booked a reservation for 9 AM and as the raindrops started to fall, headed to some nearby glacial hot pools for the evening.

After a night of pouring rain, we awoke to our miracle: clear blue skies and the top of the glacier. Sure that we’d have our chopper ride now, we walked over to the office only to be denied once again! This time? Not enough people booked for our flight; minimum of three required. So they sent us over to another agency that has smaller helicoptors, and booked our fourth flight of the trip. Thankfully within a half hour, we were walking up to the landing pad and climbing into the front seat!

The river valley below, by Iain

The river valley below, by Iain

Unbelievably, it wasn’t until I was in the front seat of the helicoptor with a big bubble window all around me that I remembered my fear of heights. Iain gave me an “Are you okay?” look, right away realizing what was going on. Fortunately I’ve had enough anxiety-ridden bus and car rides through the highlands of Guatemala and Scotland, the French Alps, the Colorado Rockies, California’s Sierra Nevadas, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, that I’ve gotten pretty good at basically pretending I’m watching a video game when I get really freaked out, figuring it’s better to die a calm fiery death than a terrified fiery death.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

Striations in the glaciers, by Iain.

With my fears neatly bundled away, I was free to enjoy what I can only describe as a sensory experience fit for the gods. We had a bird’s eye view of everything we’d been gazing at for the last 24 hours, and more. The boney, arthritic trees, their white bark standing stark against the many-shaded greens of the mountain forests. The wineglass stem waterfall, somehow lonier and more stoic when seen from above than when worshipping at its base. And of course, the glaciers themselves, massive beyond belief, stretching white and blue, far into the heavens, only to be out-ranked by the cold, grey, snow-streaked peaks that grow along the fault-line under our feet.

Coming back down again, I realized that I’d simply forgotten about the video camera sitting in my lap on the ride up. I was glad, though, in the end, that I’d gotten to enjoy the expereince of being wafted far up into those ice-covered mountains purely, without the distraction of a job to do.

Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.
Mountains above glaciers, by Iain.

Jun 112012
 

Here Iain and I are at the Franz Josef Glacier. We just walked up a decent sized hill to a viewing platform where we got our first real look at the glacier proper. I was so excited upon first glance to see that brilliant icey blue that I let out an audible cry of delight…much to the suprise (and I hope amusement) of the group of Japanese tourists that were just around the corner. :) You can’t quite make out the immensity of the glacier in the photo since the great majority is shrouded in cloud, and a bit over-exposed in the distance.

First glimpse of the glacier

We had to get a little higher for a proper look…

The glacier road, view from a helicoptor

Stay tuned for more…

Jun 092012
 

Well Iain and I just got back from a quick trip to New Zealand to renew my visa, and I am here to tell all of you that if you have the chance to visit NZ, DO IT! This was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Because of time limits (we only had four days, including travel!) we were only able to tour a small part of the South Island, but it was well worth it. We flew into Christchurch, and drove up to Hokatika on the West Coast where we only got a glimpse of the Pacific before forging on to the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. This was the highlight of the trip, and where we spent the bulk of our time.

New Zealand is one of the only places in the world that has temperate rain forests skirting its glaciers. As you might expect, the walk to the glacier is brilliantly green and lush, with plenty of singing birds and budding flowers, even in the Autumn. But once you get a little closer, the vegetation shrinks to lichens and sparse ground-cover, and the scene is dominated by rocky cliffs and fallen boulders. Seeing the glacier for the first time was a moment to remember for the rest of my life…that spectacular icey blue like a glowing diamond peering out from the clouds hanging at the mountaintops just makes you want to get a little closer…

So we did, in a helicoptor! Some of you may know that, though my work regularly takes me 100 feet in the air to the tops of masts, I actually am a bit afraid of heights. It’s a little running joke of my life that I always seem to get myself into situations that involve serious heights without remembering my fear until it’s too late, like when I see the ground falling away beneath the chopper. Iain got some good shots of me with my “brave face”on, but within a few minutes, I’d gotten myself under control and was fully enjoying the magical experience.

It’s hard to imagine that there might be a more breath-taking view than the top of a glacier covered mountain, but on our drive back to Christchurch we stopped at Lake Pukaki, a huge glacial lake that reflects New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. This was another keeper for the memory bank. Words cannot describe, so you’ll just have to check out the photo.

All in all it was a fabulous trip with just enough airport drama to keep things interesting. Now I just need to get back to see the rest of the country, and sit a little while longer at the shore of Lake Pukaki, the most beautiful lake in the world.

Right, so I’ll be posting a pic every few days or so for a while. Time to get posting again, so hopefully this will get me back into it. This first one is of Lake Pukaki, with Mount Cook visible in the background.