Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Trip Part 1: Glacier Goodness

This past weekend was a long weekend with Easter and all, so Karla and I got out of Wellington for some fun outdoorsy activity down on the South Island. Namely, we were headed for the Franz Josef Glacier, and Abel Tasman Park.

We knew were in for a great trip when the ferry Captain announced we were being escorted by a pod of dolphins on the way to Picton. They looked great, and there were so many of them - even baby dolphins sticking close to their moms. I also had a chat with an older gentlemen who was sitting near Karla and I. He was an 86 year old WWII vet, who had been a motorcycle messenger during his army days in Italy. He liked the fact that I was Canadian. He had been 'bosom mates' with a Canadian fella in Rome. The mate's name (as I remember it) was Blondie Desmond. Why don't we have such good nicknames now?

After landing, the first stop was Nelson, where we overnighted in a nice little hostel with incredibly comfortable beds. It's not right to sleep so well away from home, and it sparked a bit of a debate about our current arrangements. What could be the secret? New pillows? A new mattress? New pillows! A new mattress! Further testing is necessary.

We were up again early and off for a long drive to Franz Josef glacier, with a quick stop in Hokitika to see a jade gallery Karla's Mom and Dad had told us about. They did not over-exagerate its excellence. The carver there, whose business card reads "philosopher, poet and carver" (gotta get me one of those) makes really unique pieces, and even lights a few in a darkened room near the back of the store. The effect of the light on the jade or pounamou is amazing. And I was fortunate enough to be given one of his nicer pieces of jewlery by the fabulous Karla. I am a lucky man.

The next morning we were set to hit the glacier. Franz Josef is one of the world's most unique glaciers. It sits only 200 metres above sea level, and descends to meet the rainforest that runs through most of the valleys it has carved out over the centures. Unlike the many shrinking glaciers pictured in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, these days Franz Josef is advancing. It moves about 15 cm a day as the massive amounts of precipitation the area gets (up to 5m a year--sometimes they get in one day what London, UK get annualy) turns to ice in the peaks and pushes its way down and into the valley.

Our climb up the glacier was tough, but fun. Karla the prairie girl did great on all the ups and downs involved in climbing the walls of ice that formed the crevasses and precipices we encountered. She even had the support of an encouraging Kea when things got really hard. The bird spirits were looking out for their girl!

The ice itself was gorgeous--in its deep parts it was an amazing opaline blue. We found ourselves wiggling through ice caves and tight passages where the ice walls shot up twenty or thirty feet on either side in beautifully surprising forms. Imagine a constantly changing garden of ice sculptures--it was quite a spectacle.

The way down was harder than the way up, but we made it back to town and to fresh accomodations--the amazing Rainforest resort. Before leaving Canada, our great friends Mike Kim and Analise Saely had gifted us a night there, and we settled into our king size beds and took advantage of the private spa pool blessing both their names. Plus we ate huge burgers. Lemme tell ya, there wasn't a lot of talking over dinner. But after a long day of exercise (8 hours on the ice people!), the food tasted great.

Next day we were on the road again, pointed back up north to Motueka, a small town that is noted for its ready access to Abel Tasman Park, one of NZ's most prized nature reserves. The next morning we were booked for a day-long kayaking and hiking trip. But that'll have to wait for part 2....

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