New Zealand’s Fox Glacier

New Zealand’s Fox Glacier is in the Southern Alps on the western side against the Tasman Sea. The entire west and shatter into smaller pieces, often very much like shale.side of the South Island is rugged and there are few roads that go east/west and really only two roads on the entire island that go north/south.
By road the Fox Glacier is between Haast and Greymouth on the #6 road. There are two glaciers that one can get to visit in this area; the Fox and the Franz Josef Glacier. In actuality (as the kiwi walks) these two spots are not to far from Mount Cook* but you have to drive a big loop to get to the glaciers as there are no roads through the mountains except heading for (1) Milford Sound (and that is a dead end road with no north or south options at its terminus, (2) the road from Wanaka to Haast, (3) the road over Arthur’s Pass that heads east back to Christchurch, and (4) the northern road up near Westport.
*Mount Cook is where the famous mountaineer Edmund Hillary trained. Mount Cook is a great destination but the road in to the site is a bit remote. the actual road to the hotels and camping areas is a road that does dead end into the eastern side of the Southern Alps. The two glaciers are on the western side and there is no road that even comes close to connecting these two spots. The educational films at the Mount Cook interpretive center are simply magnificent. The mountain and its story are both grand and the biography film about Hillary is touching, explanatory, and so real you feel as if you are climbing and trudging along with him. And you feel just as sad and emotionally drained as he did when the plane crash ki…….. oh no!, go see it for yourself. It is worth the trip.

The mountains that make up the Southern Alps are often made of layers of compressed mud stones. These sort of rocks erode way in layers creating loose pieces of shake which eventually slide down the mountainsides and accumulate at the bottom of the slope.
There are often gray valleys that are simply a mountain in the process of falling apart. tThe vegetation does its best but the slopes are poor in nutrients and don’t hold water, so life is difficult.
Where there are roads they often follow a valley or switchback up to the easiest pass and then switchback down the other side. Here a bridge passes over a wide gravel expanse that demarcates the boundaries of a glacial river as it drops down from the mountains. In time of flood these rivers will have many stream beds and as the water diminishes there will be a main channel of perhaps no visible water at all, only the stones that have washed down from the decaying mountain upstream.
Fran was excited to see the glacier as she had never seen a river of ice before. I’m not sure what she expected but this was not a huge groaning ice floe. It was a glacier being covered by silt, stone, and debris as it slowed its progress and the moraine material it was dragging or pushing along was able to cover the surface.
But it was a river of ice and it would have to do. It is so easy to see these glaciers as living entities straining through rocky passages, breaking mountains, and transporting the mountain-fragments toward the sea. The accumulated dirt and ground stone was visible everywhere. When a glacier is large and active it is often part of a series of glaciers that descend for several mountain valleys and connect at a lower level level. Some ice fields will have glaciers descend and combine so that one large glacier reaches the sea but the tributaries can be found in the dirt-lines that form when two glaciers join. The lateral moraines of the glaciers are imbued with grit and that grit joins with the grit of the neighboring glacier leaving a stripe dow the middle of the new and larger glacier.
Here the melt water from the glacier runs out from under the ice. Stones hold heat and melt into the galciuer and the ice cracks and crazes as it moves. there are myriad options for water to invade the glacial ice. It then drops to the ground and flows downhill. 
The glaciers are heavy and powerful and they crush rock to dust. this dust is in the water and makes the water milky in color.  All glaciers that have rivers emanating from the will have this color water.

Eventually the river valley fills with pics of the mountain and the river drains through the glacial spoil.
New Zealand does a pretty nice job with wildlife properties and interpretation. The national parks are well managed and public access is quite comfortable. They have almost no vandalism is these areas, which makes life much easier for those responsible for the sites.
On the way back through Arthur’s Pass toward Christchurch we happened on a group of the “bad boy” parrots called Kea. They are birds of the mountains and are often in the snow fields. they will also tear the rubber gaskets or windshield wipers of vehicles. They are great birds for a visitor to see, but can be a nuisance.

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