Having boarded the Tranz Alpine train at Greymouth, 4 1/2 hrs later we pulled into Christchurch station where we were to spend the next few days exploring. Christchurch is often described as the most English of New Zealand's cities, with the punting boats that glide down the River Avon, a grand Anglican cathedral that rises up out of Cathedral Square, and the trams that rattle down the streets with the very British names! I wasn't sure what to expect in Christchurch having had mixed reports of the city from various people, but by the end of our visit we all decided that we really liked Christchurch, maybe because of the English feel which has been retained throughout the city.
After having aquainted ourselves with the layout of Christchurch, taking in the Spanish Mission style architecture of New Regent Street, and the Gothic style of Christchurch Cathedral that dominates Cathedral Square, we hopped on board one of restored trams that operate a loop around the city. Next was a short bus ride out to Lyttelton, a historic port where we met two lovely native New Zealander's and their dog 'Souk'. For Mum and me this was a good way to feed those 'Jack Russell' withdrawal symptoms that we have been suffering from! After a delicious lunch we made our way to the Gondola which whisks you up to the top of Mount Cavendish where you get some great views over Lyttelton Harbour and towards the Southern Alps.
As with most days on this trip, time just flew by and before we knew it we were boarding the Tranz Alpine train back to Greymouth. Having left a windy but sunny Christchurch behind we soon arrived back on the west coast to some very grey and wet skies! We drove for a few hours through the rain until we reached the Fox Glacier our next stopping point. All we could hope was that this weather would brighten up by the next day as none of us were very keen at that stage on doing the hike across the glacier that we had planned if the weather didn't improve!!! But someone must have been looking down on us and heard our plea because the next morning we woke to find a lovely clear, blue sunny day outside!
We headed to the Alpine Guide office and checked ourselves in for the 1/2 day hike. Once kitted out with spikey crampons and our boots checked, we set off in a bus to the base of the Glacier. The Fox and Franz Joseph (its cousin) Glacier, are unique because of their geographical setting, they are the only glaciers in the world to be sited so close to rainforests which surround both of them. Very bizzare to see! From the base of the glacier it was a short climb through the rainforest until we were parallel with the glacier and able to walk onto it. We then stopped and put on our crampons which were just attached with a leather buckle to the soles of our boots. I could do with something similar for walking about on a daily basis with my accident proneness! Crampons on, we then followed our guide across the ice, up and down the ice staircases which are pre-dug out, and across the glacier. It's an amazing feeling walking across this huge iceberg as it 'advances' and 'retreats' down the valley faster than you would expect with the changing weather patterns.
The Fox Glacier overall was not as white as I was expecting, mainly due to the time of year, it being the end of a dry summer over here and loose dust and dirt has been blown across it making it very grey in places. It won't be long before it gets a bit cleaner though as the colder weather starts to move in over the next few weeks and snow falls more frequently. In places the ice has looked like it has a blue tinge to it which apparently happens when ice has formed then there has been subsequent snow falls which have compressed the snow and it has become firm then turned into what they call 'blue ice'! Whilst on the glacier we also explored a couple of ice caves that had been formed where the ice has melted, and we also saw some huge crevasses which have appeared where the ice has cracked after passing over an obstacle, and then it has started to move down the mountain. After 1hr on the ice exploring all the holes and crevasses, and admiring the great views, it was unfortunately time to head back down again to green rainforest below!
With the afternoon free and the sun still shining we headed out to Lake Matheson which is only a few km down the road from the Fox Glacier. I don't think there is a New Zealand picture book that doesn't contain a photo of this lake with Mount Cook mirrored in the lake! There is a walk that surrounds the lake and is perfect for taking those breath taking photos! Am not sure how many we took but too many to count that's for sure!!