The New Zealand Diaries: of glaciers next to rainforest (09/01/16 part 1 )


I just stumbled across a hidden gem of a spot -Bruce Bay- on my leisurely drive out of Fox Glacier ……I drove round the corner of a bendy road and the view of beautiful blue turquoise just hit me.

What better spot to start digesting all I have seen and experienced in the short time since yesterday afternoon and now: I have found a rock with a prime view over the sea, comfortable to sit on cross-legged; the wind is blowing in my face (probably falsely deceiving me into believing that it is safe to sit here without sun-screen as it has so many times before). In front of me, the striking yellow of the dandelions is competing with the varied green shades of bushes and shrubs and the glistening silver sands–with the sea gently looking on while its waves brush backwards and forwards onto the shore. The gentle buzzing of bees and birdsong is resonating in my ears and filling the air, providing the orchestral accompaniment to the sound of the waves  caressing the sand that stretches out just metres away from me.

It is early afternoon and already it feels as if I have achieved a day’s worth of sight-seeing. My heart is so full. Lucy and I had a quieter sleep in the camper last night after a good shower and in a slightly more sheltered camp-site and so when we awoke to a clear, windless days, we flung on some clothes and headed straight down to Lake Matheson to see if we could see the world-famous reflections of Mount Cook and surrounding nature in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. We were not disappointed……while Mount Cook did justice to its reputation of being shy and tending to hide behind a  cloud, we did see part of it reflected in the almost still, flat waters, with trees and bushes mirrored so perfectly that it almost felt disorientating to look into the water. Gentle mist was rising from the cold water and drifted towards the centre of the lake before being  picked up by the gentle breeze which gave wings to its flight. The birds were singing in the trees, and we heard a bellbird and the distinctive call of the cucoo before I was privileged enough to see fantails for the first time. What magnificent little birds they are…….unlike my little friend the robin, they do not sit still but jumped and fluttered about, proudly displaying their delicate little fanned tails which give them their names…..but shooting off to catch flies and insects before I could disrupt this natural moment with my camera. As we walked out of the walking trail, we saw wetland grass covered in tiny cucoons which were essentially round spiders’ webs, the delicate birthing place of tiny spiders. What a view to come into the world to!

After a hearty breakfast back in the campervan, Lucy and I headed up to the Fox Glacier to embark on part 2 of my glacier exploration. Fox Glacier was quite different from Franz Joseph, which we saw late yesterday afternoon. The valley which you walk through to get to the glacier is much wider, surrounded-at the start-by incredibly high rocky hills, flattened, no doubt, by centuries of water pouring down and polishing them. Waterfalls were trickling down to the left and right, with ample evidence of the path of waterfalls passed, who have since dried  out, their existence only visible when looking at the path they had carved for themselves through the rocks.

The water at the bottom of the glacier were crystal clear, with the river further down turning into the milky-grey colour which had also characterised Hokitita Gorge and the river at Franz Joseph glacier…….the shading eminating from the rock dust that is released when water forces its way past stones and rocks, washing tiny particles with it.

Fox Glacier did not glisten in quite as many colours as Franz Joseph had the day before. Perhaps due to the time of day, with the intensity of colours that ensues as the sun gradually begins to set, or perhaps because of the greater proximity of nearby trees and moss- covered green rocks nexto red stones (the latter enveloped in the reddish-brown bacteria which form the precursor of any growth on a glacial rock) in that much  narrower valley, Franz Joseph’s ice was glistening in all shades of white and blue, the stalagmite-like formations proudly dominating the top of the glacier.

That said, both Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier filled me with a deep sense of melancholy. It was so evident that both have receded significantly even in the past few years only, a fact confirmed by Lucy who told me that both glaciers had extended further down during her first visit a few years ago. Who knows if generations to come will see these natural phenomena, which seem so bizzarre given their location: you literally just turn your back standing on a beach (for example at pretty Okarito Lagoon where we had briefly stopped on the way to Franz Joseph), and ahead of us were snow-capped mountains and the glaciers , right nexto tropical forest. I do not understand how two such different eco-systems can co-exist in such a unique way; and who knows, perhaps I don’t need to. Perhaps it is enough to just gaze and stand in awe of such wonders.