Wake up ridiculously early, and bed is so soft it’s hurting my back, so I get up and check on the weather. To my surprise, I see clear skies. Everything appears to be going well.
The weather continues to improve as everyone else gets up, but when we head over to the Glacier Tour building, we get the bad news – the tour is cancelled.
It sounds ridiculous, but although the skies are clear, the glacier is covered in cloud. Essentially, the one part of the sky we NEED clear is not. As an added bonus, the guided tour is now fully booked, so if we want to go, we have to do it solo.
I try to see whose interested, but most people are still hemming and hawing, so I book a shuttle on my own. Its $12.50 return, and runs every 2 hours. The next one is in 50 minutes at 10:45 – since it’s an hour walk, I figure I’d rather save my energy – plus, weather’s starting to look bad again.
Right decision. When they pick us up, it starts raining halfway there, and we pass several walkers getting drenched. Gets even worse when we start getting pelted with hail before pulling into the carpark. Never have I ever regretted not bringing my fleece hoodie as much as I do today. I could really use the extra layer.
The walk consists of 3 parts. Walking through the forest, then the valley and finally up the glacier hill to view Franz Josef. It’s raining in the forest, but clears up just as I leave the shelter and head into the valley.
Franz Josef used to reach the sea, but thousands of years of environmental changes have seen it recede 16km inward. It’s still being affected, especially due to human interaction. Only a few years ago, you used to be able to walk onto the glacier, but it’s become damaged and now you have to take a helicopter.
This valley was carved out by the glacier as it receded – the forest grew in what was receded several thousand years ago, while the valley has smaller fauna and is only a few hundred years old. The ice rivers still run strong, while waterfalls of icy, drinkable water crash into additional rivers by the cliffs.
Sadly, it starts raining as I hit the final section, in addition to some rather spectacular thunder. It’s not a steep climb, but the weather makes it harder than expected. This section first looks like a quarry, but when you look closer, you realise the grey stone is only the top layer. The actual ground beneath my feet is ice.
By the time I get to the glacier – still a good distance away, it’s mostly shrouded in fog and the weather is awful, but I can still make it out in the distance.
The weather clears up when I hit the valley again, and grab a drink from one of the falls before the rain starts dropping again. By the time I make it to the car park, I only have to wait 10 minute for the shuttle to pick me up again and take me back to the hostel.
In Franz Josef, the weather isn’t perfect, but it’s relatively dry. I am not, so have a shower and get changed before I head out again. I’ve got some spare change and an afternoon to kill, so I decided to check out the West Coast Wildlife Centre in town.
This is a rehabilitation centre for the very rare ‘Rowi’ kiwi, which only has 500 left, and is native to the area. The house tracks kiwi in the wild, and when they nest, takes the eggs and raise them here. Since kiwi don’t raise their young, they aren’t at risk of imprinting, and they stay here until they reach a certain age, then get sent to sanctuaries where they can learn the necessary skills to survive the wild before getting released into their natural habitat when they hit the stoat proof 1kg of weight (stoats love to hunt baby kiwi, and are the main cause of the dropping numbers).
It’s $38 to enter, but for $58 you can also get a behind the scenes tour, so I sign up for the one happening in 15 minutes and go check out the Kiwi House. They currently have 3 juvenile kiwis’ here, though on my first run I can only spot one. They also have a section showing a video of what they do in order to track eggs, and sections on the Franz Josef glacier and the local area’s history.
At 2:30, I head back to the front, get some protective booties, and head into the back rooms for the tour. It’s very small, consisting of 3 rooms – the clean room, incubation and recent births. We can only look through the window of the clear room as its fully sterilised since eggs are weighed and washed here. Next door is incubation, and currently have one egg in the machines. Finally, they also have two very young kiwis (30 and 8 days respectively) who are sleeping in their nursery. They are ridiculously cute balls of feathery fluff!
My wristband is good for the rest of the day and the next morning, but I don’t think I’ll have a chance to come back. There’s a break in the weather, so I go have a wander round town – I’d heard you could do some jade carving in town which sounded interesting, but turns out the guy’s out sick so it’s not an option today. By this point, it’s already pretty late, so I take half an hour to soak in the Rainforest’s hot tub (largest in the Southern hemisphere, or so they claim) before returning to make the finishing touches on Gaia’s parrot.
Tonight, the Monsoon Bar attached to the retreat is having its All-You-Can-Eat-Pizza night, which it runs every second day and is highly popular. As a Stray traveler, we get the tickets for a $5 discount and only have to pay $20, but I’ve been semi starving myself to make sure I get my money’s worth. Since it’s not raining, I decide to take the costume with me, leaving it on the side of the bench while I eat (considering how much it started raining, definitely made the right decision).
The Stray group grabbed the tables in the corner since the only other available one had wet seats, and unleashed ourselves on pizza. It was a little frustrating at first – by the time they get to us the flavours were generally a mixed bag – often too spicy or covered in ingredients I hate. Did eventually manage to win over a Hawaiian though, in addition to a BBQ.
Once we were all bloated, I headed into the bar with my concoction of cardboard and crepe paper and sought out Gaia. On the way I ran into Michell, who had gotten my name and presented me with my costume – a party hat to wear on my forehead to turn me into a unicorn.
Quite a few people looked nervous when I headed in their diction, but Gaia appeared to like my parrot, and I got tons of compliments for it. Even got to show off my cosplay photos to a few people when they realised I must have done similar before.
Sadly, the night ended on a dull note – there were competitions and a party the night before, but nothing tonight so it kind of felt like we’d dressed up for nothing. Everyone ended up calling it a night early and running through the rain in fancy dress.