Hello to all our family and friends!
Wow, it has been too long since we’ve last been in touch. We just spent two fantastic days in the town of Franz Josef, fitting in kayaking, ice climbing, and a “glacier adventure.” So much fun!
Franz Josef is a tiny, two-horse town that thrives because it is at the base of one of the world’s largest glaciers---and the only glacier in the world that is surrounded by a natural rain forest. Due to being in a rain forest, Franz Josef gets a ton of rain: 180 days of rain and an equivalent of 185 inches of rain each year! (As comparison, Seattle gets 37 inches of rain of year…. Franz Josef eats that for breakfast!)
However, that being said, we must have lucked out during our 2 night stay because we didn’t get any rain---and even a bit of sun! (Some overcast clouds, yes, but no rain). While the town of Franz Josef is nothing to write home about (it has maybe 4 or 5 restaurants in the whole town and 1 small grocery that only gets deliveries every 2 weeks – no raw meats sold here), we kept ourselves VERY busy with activities. Franz Josef is truly an adventurer’s paradise. They offer rafting, boating, paragliding, skydiving, you name it. But what they are most famous for is their glacier hiking and climbing. And now I know why.
I first tried ice climbing soon after we arrived Tuesday afternoon. It was an indoor ice climbing facility that we stumbled upon (when I say stumbled upon, I mean that the huge building stood out among the 10 other buildings downtown like a beacon – you couldn’t miss it). Kev decided to sit this one out and take photos (he has elbow issues), but I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather being doing – it was a real ice environment that they created indoors! After a few minutes, I found myself hooked up to pulleys & ropes, with my ice axes in hand and starting my climbs. It was exhilarating! I had such a great time but have never been worn out so quickly – this was easily twice or three times as exhausting as indoor rock climbing walls. After three climbs, I was done…
That evening, Kevin and I joined a sunset kayaking trip on Lake Mapourika. It was gorgeous! The lake was stunning with the mountains and glaciers on display all around us – again a postcard photo moment. Part of the trip included floating through a river that looked like a glass mirror reflecting all the stunning landscapes around us. It was difficult to tell where the water ended and the sky began. It was like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we did what we came to Franz Josef to do – an all-day, guided hike into the glaciers. This was easily our most favorite experience in New Zealand yet. Our guides started out by providing us with some gear (specifically “crampons” to attach to our boots which looked like the jaws of death – you definitely wouldn’t want to be barefoot around anyone wearing these!). After giving us some instructions we were off. It included a hike to the base of the glacier (about 1 hour) and then the rest of the day we were climbing up, on, and through the glacier itself!! This included some tricky maneuvering at times, such as wedging yourself through walls of ice – one guy even got stuck for a little while until he could free his backpack – climbing through tunnels, using ropes to climb up steep walls of ice, and crossing gaps and ledges.
All the while our guide would be leading us by using his ice ax to blaze a “trail” for us, creating stairs or grooved areas where we could gain traction for our climbs. It was insane! But such an amazing experience. At one point, we were each given our own ice axe (a smaller version of the guide’s) and while it wasn’t as useful for me in completing my hike, it did make for some great pictures!
We left Franz Josef this morning to head to our next stop, Lake Wanaka, where we’ll be staying for two more nights (Thursday and Friday nights). Here we are hoping to fit in a canyoning adventure (www.deepcanyon.co.nz). I know….who is this girl?? I’m starting to not recognize me! It’s the Kiwi culture…it just gets into your skin!
Thanks to everyone who has left comments on our blogs – we love reading your notes and hearing from you. It’s almost been three weeks since we left Seattle, and homesickness is starting to set in a bit. We’ve passed the point of where all our other vacations have ended (2 weeks or less) and when looking at the whole itinerary, we see that we’ve only just begun. We are so excited about all the adventures that lie ahead for us, but we do miss our family and friends. New Zealand is awesome, and we’re meeting lots of great people. However, we know where our hearts lie. We love you!
Okay enough sap and onto the next stop – Wanaka! We hope that you are all well at home and look forward to being in touch soon. Also, if you want to see more, you can check out all of our pictures at our flickr site.