Ever laughed so hard that cider came out of your nose? No? Me neither, until a few days ago.
They say that travelling is all about the people you meet, and they’d be right. A couple of nights ago we had the good fortune to stay at the same campsite as a whole bunch of interesting and brilliant individuals from all over the world. One of those fortuitous, lovely coincidences that seem to usually only happen to other people.
What ensued was a hilarious night sat round a campfire discussing life, travelling, adventures, music, politics and just about everything in between. There was a German lady on a motorbike tour of NZ, a group of four young American guys, one of whom was a really good guitarist, A Spanish guy mid-way through riding a mountain bike all around the south island (the best samba drummer I’ve ever seen), who was playing entire songs on pans, pots and empty boxes! There was also a French brother and sister, as well as a few other people, all sat around one campfire, sharing stories. Sadly there are no photos of this wondrous evening, as everyone was too preoccupied with cider and laughter to consider fetching a camera, but to be honest, any photographs couldn’t have truly captured the amazing vibe, and so in a way I’m quite glad that none exist. It is another one of those fondly remembered events that now exists purely and solely in the memories of those lucky enough to be involved.
Franz Josef Glacier or Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere ito give it its Maori name, is a 12 km glacier on the west coast of the south island of New Zealand, and one of the only glaciers to be in an area of temperate rainforest anywhere in the world. Together with the nearby Fox Glacier, it is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in this gorgeous country, and in an entire land of wilderness and rugged scenery, it still manages to impress. The glacier itself is huge, carving a gouge out of the bedrock of the mountain as it retreats, and leaving behind an almost alien landscape, more akin to the surface of a strange planet from a sci-fi movie than anything we are used to seeing her on earth. The vast scale of the landscapes here have a way of making you seem incredibly insignificant, and none more so than here.
Tours to the glacier face itself have long been stopped after numerous deaths due to sudden and unpredictable shifts and falls in the ice itself, so the only way to get up close and personal with the glacier is by helicopter, an expensive and unsustainable activity that goes against the very nature of glacier conservation. We opted instead for a formidable 6 hour hike up to the top of the neighbouring summit, from where there are panoramic views of the entire national park, including the glacier itself. The colours, and deep wrinkles and undulating folds of the glacier looked like something out of a painting, and from a distance, with little handle on scale, it was hard to believe that the view in front of you was real.