NZ Day Two: Glacier Hiking and route to Queenstown!

To explore Fox Glacier, we were given two options.  The first was described as a fairly challenging hike up to a portion of the glacier (fourty minutes up a fairly steep incline) with about an hour on the ice, but as it would be lower on the mountain, the ice quality wouldn't be as nice & clean.  The second option was to take a helicopter up to the top, hop out & have closer to 2 hours on nicer ice, ect.  Well, obviously, being inherently lazy and inclined to choosing the finer things in life, I had chosen the helicopter option.  Unfortunately, mother nature shut that down, as apparently clouds & wind wouldn't allow a glacial landing, so I had to suck it up & do the hike.

Well, who knows what the other option would've been like, but the hiking option was fantastic!  We got fitted out with boots and crampons (metal spikes you attach to your boots) and hopped in a mini-van with our two guides for the morning over to the base of the glacier.  Needless to say:  beautiful!  So, for those NOT hiking up to the ice, there is a dirt path that takes you about, say, one kilometer up to at least view the glacier - we were going up this path when the guide let us know he had an exciting surprise for us.  He hopped over the little rope barrier and led us by some glacial pools over to the very edge of the glacier.  We waited while one guide hopped up a hill and started creating mini avalanches.  Now, we all had noticed that he was rather good-looking, but seeing him up there swinging an axe around had all the ladies in a bit of a flutter.  So much so that we didn't really notice what was below him:  a hole in the ice.  It slowly dawned on us that that hole was a cave, and we were going in it!  The other guide appeared from the opposite side and started leading us in.  The entry was so low that we practically had to be on our hands and knees, it was so narrow that we really could only be in single file, and the other end of the cave opening was too unstable for us to exit, so we had to go back out the way we came in.  Still -SO COOL.  It had just appeared a few days before, and it's also apparently super rare to have caves/tunnels down at the bottom of the ice, so we were really lucky to get to experience that. 

Once we'd all had time in the tunnel, we headed back to the path and up the hill.  This was the part I was dreading because I just have issues with steep inclines!  It wasn't nearly as long as I'd feared however, so I did make it up, huffing terribly.  At this point the main guide split us into two groups - those that didn't need a moment to catch their breath, and those that did.  Smaller groups make it easier to move around on the ice, apparently.  We again crossed the rope border and headed a bit further uphill to a small area to grab a ski pole if we wanted extra stability, and also to strap on our crampons.  We picked our way down a staircase that slowly turned from packed dirt to ice, and then we started heading up a staircase dug out of the ice.  National Park volunteers get up even earlier than us (and we started around 7am from the office) to cut out steps on the glacier for all of the guided hikers - it looks like very hard work - again with lots of axe swinging and shards of ice flying.  Our guides were helping a bit, since we were the first group up on the ice.  Once we got out on top, it was brilliant.  Definitely a little worrisome when you didn't have broken-up steps to use - you have to stomp hard to make sure the crampons get a little traction on the ice so you don't slide.  Really, really cool and beautiful, even if the ice was a bit dirty due to the recent lack of rain. Eventually we stopped in a clearing to meet up with our other half and take some photos.

Our group then went the route that the other had taken, because they found something cool to check out.  I can't remember the correct term for what we saw, not crevasse nor chasm, but it was cool.  Basically a swirly crack that melting water was rushing through down to the bottom of the glacier.  The photo really doesn't do it justice- it was big and very, very cool.  We also had to / got to cross these deep crevices, which actually weren't dangerous since they weren't up high, covered with snow.  I took the guides word for it - it was a little disconcerting at times for sure!  Eventually we made our way back down & up to the path to head down to the bottom of the valley. 

After a quick lunch in the sun, we headed back through the rainforest to the coast.  Yes, you read that right: in the span of a half hour you go from a glacier, through a rainforest, and arrive at an ocean (well, a sea, to be technical).  This country really is unreal.  We were headed south, to the adventure capitol of the south island:  Queenstown.  I was sitting up at the front of the bus this time, and noticed, as we were going over the "baby golden gate that isn't actually golden" that the bridges all seemed to be one lane.  Lana & Craig explained that there just isn't enough traffic on the south island for them to actually need two lanes.  !!  Luckily, the whole right-of-way rule is always clearly marked, and it actually didn't seem to be an issue.  This was a mostly non-descript drive at the start, though we did stop at a lovely coastal overlook, and then a magical waterfall. 
Right after the magical waterfall (which if you stared at it long enough would make the neighboring trees look like they were shifting around, but only if you were a good person, according to Craig), we went over a bridge with just a gorgeous set of rapids below. 

Then, as we got further south, it was time for gorgeous lakes.  For a solid hour (ish) we were riding along a just lovely lake bordered with dramatic mountains.  There were actually two lakes - we were on the west side of one for a while, then we took a left, went over a hill, and continued along the east side of the biggest lake in the south: Lake Wakatipu.  It was crazy pretty - here are a few pics:
When we finally arrived in Queenstown, we checked into our cool hostel, which offerred apartments for four - hooray!  Then we got a bit spuced up (as much as you can when travelling, unless you're the two party-girls from Italy that were on our tour and showed up in teeny party dresses & giant heels!?!?!), and headed into town for a communal dinner.  After yummy gourmet pizzas, then most of us (except for the swedes and italians who went out to party-party!), headed for the ice bar.  This of course would be a gimmicky bar where everything is made of ice - the bar, the glasses, the chairs & tables, ect.  As it's -8C in the room, they outfit you with gloves & a parka, thank goodness. We got a free drink with entry, but I guess I hadn't been out with friends in a while, so one turned into two or three, plus I got convinced to take a shot out of the ice-luge.  And then I purchased THREE of the professional photos for $10 each.  OOF.  Here are my personal shots from the night - I can't seem to find the code to download my precious purchases. 

It was a fun night of course, and luckily the drinks weren't strong enough to give me a hangover or anything.  Up next, views over Queensland, and a horse ride through movie-quality terrain.