Sunday, May 13, 2018

Glacier Country

Day two of the tour was spent in the town of Franz Josef, named after the famous Franz Josef Glacier.  There were a few optional activities for the day, but due to the weather the option to hike on the glacier wasn't available.  The glacier has retreated so much in recent years that the only safe way to get people onto the glaciers now (for a hike) is by helicopter.  Since I love to be on the water I chose the kayaking option.  Although the clouds were too low and full of rain for the helicopter hike we still got a decent view from the water.  Lake Maporika was beautiful, and our tour guide Will did an excellent job.  Despite sitting in the Franz Josef Glacier valley, and being created as the Glacier retreated, the water was quite warm.  We could see the glacier in the distance but no streams or lakes with glacier water feed into the lake.  It was my first time in a 2-person kayak and I ended up in the back.  The person in the back uses two foot pedals that move a rudder to steer the kayak.  It took a bit of getting used to and reminded me of my Dad trying to teach me to drive an automatic and telling me to be thankful I wasn't learning how to drive a crane.

"The back of the lake borders the Okarito State Forest, which is left in its prehistoric state as this forest has sprung up after the last ice age and is found in its same pristine state today. This area is protected habitat of the rarest kiwi on the planet – the Rowi."  We were able to slide our kayaks into a small estuary leading into the forest where Will entertained us with facts about their special kiwi and efforts to reestablish them in the area.  The kiwi, when discovered, was endangered due to the stoat, a relative of the weasel and ferret.
The Department of Conservation created Operation Nest Egg to help solve the problem.  "Unlike some other kiwi species, male and female rowi both take turns incubating their eggs...all kiwi chicks are self-sufficient as soon as they hatch...{but} rowi are slow breeders, normally laying just one egg per year – making the death of an adult bird all the more devastating to the population."  The program is a great success story for DoC and they've raised the number of chicks that survive to adulthood "from 2 to approximately 50 per season."

Another threat to local birds is the possum.  According to Will (and substantiated by Predator Free NZ), there are more possums than people in New Zealand.  Everyone always quotes that there are more sheep than people in NZ, but there are more possum than sheep (an estimated 30 million possums, 27.6 million sheep, and only 4.7 million people).  One of the reasons you can find Possum Wool products here in NZ is to encourage people to trap the little pests.  You can apparently make a pretty good living selling possum fur, so it's certainly working.  One other cool fact I thought I'd share from PFNZ (I learn so much when I research to write these posts for you all): " In the 1980s, possum meat was also exported to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for people to eat. In these countries it was considered a special food delicacy and was called ‘kiwi bear’."

After the morning kayak I hurried to eat some lunch so that I could hike up to the glacier lookout point; I just made the 12:45pm shuttle to the car park.  Will said the radar showed rain starting around 2:30pm so I was hoping to make the 1.5 hour (round trip) hike while it was dry.

The Westland Tai Poutini National Park is the official home to the glacier, and as mentioned early, the photos on the signs along the trail, showing the glacial retreat, were shocking.  The lookout was much closer to the glacier than I expected and it was surprising how blue it appeared as well!  While hiking I came upon a man wearing a Steelers hat with a Steelers patch on his backpack.  First a girl from Philly on my tour, and now a fellow Pittsburgher?  In the end, they weren't from Pittsburgh, weren't even from the USA - they were from western Canada.  To close out this post I'll share the Maori legend of the glacier:  "Tears of Hine Hukatere"
Hine Hukatere (meaning 'the avalanche girl') was an adventurous Maori woman who loved mountaineering above all other activities.  Her lover, Tawe, was not as fond of climbing as his sweetheart, but Hine's powers of persuation were strong and Tawe often climbed with her in the mountains.  On one such adventure Tawe slipped at the head of this valley and plunged to his death.  Hine's tears were so many that they flooded the valley and were frozen by the gods as a memorial to her grief.

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