Thursday, May 31, 2007

South Island Lite

Last weekend when my dad and brother were still here (they're back at home, but my mom's still here for a few days), I sent them down to Queenstown to go out to Milford Sound and see all the things that I did. A few days after, I took a long weekend and flew down after them, and we drove up to Franz Joseph Glacier (and by "we" here I mean my dad drove the whole way, and we all thanked him for the kindness of a saint and for remembering what side of the road to drive on).

And the coolest thing about Franz Joseph was how we did a helihike! When I was last there I did a half-day hike but it's not the same at all- you need to walk a good hour out to the glacier face, and the ice is rather dirty due to all the accumulated dirt on the bottom left over as the ice melts. If you do a helihike, on the other hand, they fly you up to the fastest-moving part of the glacier and you tramp around on pristine ice floes... plus there's the helicopter ride, which none of us had ever done and was, quite frankly, pretty damn sweet.
What Franz Joseph glacier looks like as you fly towards it. For comparisons, last time I was there I probably just went a few pixels up the bottom from where the ice starts.
A much closer-up view of the glacier face, which was just spectacular. Notice how nice the weather is too: last time I was here this part of the glacier would've been completely covered in cloud, as it rains an astonishing 9 meters each year at the top of the glacier (for comparison, it rains about 3 meters in southern England). The upshot of this was I was completely astonished to see the mountains upon waking up, as I hadn't seen them last time in Franz Joseph!
Patrick clinging on for dear life. The guy roped up to him had slipped, you see, and he had luckily gotten his ice pick in the ice just in time...

No really, that didn't quite happen but this is an ice field after all, so in order to counter the slippery nature of every step we were equipped with talsons (spikes) for our feet and given ice axes as well. And you use those ice axes too, partly to maintain balance, partly to hit the ice ahead of wherever you're walking to make sure it's strong enough to walk on. (Nothing really deadly, just a lot of melted water with only a thin layer of ice on top which wouldn't be fun to step in.)
Me in a little ice cave, admiring the blueness of the ice. Isn't it just an incredible color?
My mom in another ice cave. My Hungarian relatives check in here regularly, and I know my grandmother would like to see this one. (Latod milyen jol hejet allt anya, Sari mamama?)
The main part of the glacier, which is advancing at an astonishing rate (sometimes over a meter a day!). During our hike, we were interrupted more than once to watch large chunks of ice the size of cars or busses tumble down the side... to give you some scale here, the top of this floe is over a kilometer away, and all those pinnacles of ice are about twice as tall as you are, give or take.
The helicopter we rode out on. I know this will sound obvious, but the most impressive thing about them really is how they can land and take off on the spot of a dime. I mean think of an airplane taking off: yes, takeoffs and landings are very impressive, but you get up to a great speed with lots of accompanied shaking before slipping the surly bonds of Earth. A helicopter, on the other hand, just goes straight up! Neat stuff... the other cool thing was how our pilot was cool enough to do a few bank rolls wonderfully close to the mountains for us and what not, which was a great lesson in reference frames because you don't feel like you're at an angle, it's just the ground suddenly is.
The view from the chopper away from the glacier. The closer body of water to the right is a nearby lake, and if you're sharp-eyed you can spot the ocean in the distance as well (sorry, but I couldn't dictate the position of the sun obviously).
Alas, that's the end of the glacier/ helicopter pictures. Not to worry, folks, there's lots of pretty scenery to enjoy on the trip back because this is New Zealand after all!
Patrick contemplating a sign at the Queenstown airport telling him the most direct route to New York City (it's 15,027km away if you can't read that). My brother was starting an internship at a buisness firm Tuesday, and since this was Sunday in New Zealand his life for the next day consisted basically of travelling so he could reach NYC by Monday night. I thought the sign was a good touch.
Me with the stylistic backpacker look at the airport. For those of you who don't know this is what backpackers do usually, as in throw your main pack on your back, hug you smaller one to your chest, except apparently this looks mildly rediculous when I do it because I don't look much larger than the pack. I'll leave that for you to decide.

All in all, I was very, very happy to make it down to South Island one last time before going home, and it was even better to share it with my family! I think that's about it for now, as tomorrow is the last day of class and I need to get some rest before that. Goodnight everyone!