June 19, 2008

River of ice

New Zealand West Coast glaciers are unique and probably the most accessible glaciers in the world, as they terminate amongst temperate rainforest just 250m above sea level. It forms part of the South Westland World Heritage Area. Fox Glacier is easily accessible from the Fox Glacier township - small, charming and retains a peaceful country town feel. It offers a more intimate village experience than its bigger neighbour, Franz Josef.

Top: Fox township (L) and the hostel where we stayed (R); Bottom: Fox Glacier Guiding building and the restored Bedford bus

A glacier is simply a slow moving body of ice, drawn by gravity down a valley. A glacier is fed at the head (neve or accumulation basin) by large amounts of snow thay compact and partially melt to form a whitish granular snow called firn. Over several years as water seeps in and air is expelled under the weight of accumulating snow, the granules merge together to form bluish glacial ice. Under the constant gravitational pull down the valley, the glacier slowly moves forward/downward like a giant ice river. The ice slowly melts as it reaches the more temperate lower levels closer to sea level. Glaciers constantly advance and retreat, held in delicate balance by the accumulation of snow gained in the upper glacier and ice melting in the lower part. An increase in snowfall at the neve will result in the glacier advancing. Correspondingly, a faster melt will result in the glacier retreating.

At 13km long, Fox Glacier is the longest of the awe inspiring New Zealand West Coast glaciers. It grinds its way 2600m down from the Southern Alps at the rate of one to four metres a day. While many glaciers worldwide have been retreating, Fox Glacier has been advancing since 1985 almost to the sea level.

Top: View of the glacier from the car park; Bottom: Each layer of these striated rocks is equivalent to about 1000 years. That's how old this area is.

We signed up for a half-day glacier walk with Fox Glacier Guiding. Upon checking in, we were provided with leather boots, woollen socks and crampons before being transported to the glacier by the restored Bedford buses, a reminder of the original coaches which took visitors to the glacier in 1922. After a leisurely walk along the Fox River valley floor, we came to the terminal face (the final ice face at the bottom of the glacier).

Terminal face of the glacier

We then hiked up the jungle to set foot on the glacier to view stunning ice features, spectacular ice caves, arches and tunnels, all brilliantly blue in colour.

Increasingly massive view of the glacier as we hiked up the jungle

Inside an ice cave

Different ice architectures and a close up view of the leather boot and crampon

Lets play follow the leader - but seriously it's important to follow instructions of the guide to ensure safety

We're on top of the world

One of the things the guide has to do is clear off ice boulders - notice how massive the boulder is (bottom left)


Chinneeq said...

wow...the ice cave really looks scary ler!!

A Mom's Diary said...

Chinnee, does it look scary? It wasn't actually, it's kinda like just a hole in the ground.