Glacial Encounters

Frank has a thing for mountains. On the North Island, it was Mount Ruapehu. On the South Island, it was Aoraki or Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. We saw the 3,754 meter snow capped monster from afar but he wanted to see it up close.

The road to Mount Cook village is flat and runs along turquoise Lake Pukaki before entering the narrow valley in the midst of the Southern Alps. There is a slight rise as you enter the tiny resort town. We saw condos, a visitor’s center and a couple restaurants but surprisingly, no chairlifts. Although it is in the mountains, there is no regular skiing here(!) — only backcountry heli-skiing. The other reasons tourists come is to heli-hike, regular hike, camp and to see the amazing Tasman Glacier. The Tasman Glacier, at 17 miles in length, is the largest glacier in the southern hemisphere. It was truly an amazing sight to see.

A few days later, we approached the Southern Alps from the west. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are two New Zealand icons – unique because they reach from mountains into rain forest. We hiked in the pouring rain to within 500 meters of the Fox Glacier. Though the glacier was magnificent, what was more compelling were the sign posts leading up to it – signs showing us where the glacier HAD BEEN. In the 90 years between 1893 and 1983 – the end of the last big retreat – Franz Josef Glacier receded about 3km. Between 1983 and 2008 it advanced almost 1.5km after heavy snowfalls but in the past four years it has melted almost 500m. Scientists are saying, “What has happened at Franz Josef in the last few years is incredibly dramatic – almost 25 years of advance has been lost in just five years.” They attribute this to global warming. I truly fear my great grandchildren will never be able to view this incredible wonder.

Note: After hiking to the glacier in the pouring rain, we dropped our bags at our motel and then went into  “town” (pop. 300). Jenny and I popped into an outdoor store while Frank went to the grocery store for some apples. While in this little store he was startled when suddenly he heard in a booming voice, “Is that Frank Busalacchi?!!” Meanwhile, Jenny and I, still drenched from the walk, walked across the street to meet Frank. I laughingly remarked, “I am so glad I don’t know anyone here!” Wasn’t I surprised when I saw him talking with Mike and Jill Duckett in front of the 4 Square?!!! We had known they were touring around NZ before heading to the Australian Open but what are the chances that we would run into them?!!! A few beers and glasses of wine were in order.


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