01/22/11 - Aoraki Mount Cook
After the hike, we zipped on over to The Hermitage Hotel for our Glacier Explorers tour. The sun was masked over by clouds by now, making us even more thankful for our luck out on the Hooker Valley Trail. At this point we were fine with the overcast sky, as we'd both discovered that our faces had fared all right under the midday sun (seeing as we’d put sunblock on them), but our necks were rather toasty. That fiery sting would last us a few days.
(Note to self: cover all exposed body parts in sunblock before heading out for the day. Okay? Okay.)
A tour bus whisked us away while we listened to commentary about the history of the glacier from our tour guide. We bumped along the gravel road into the next valley and then enjoyed a short hike out to the edge of the glacial lake. With all of us wrapped tightly in lifejackets, we were ready to board our yellow boats and see the ice up close. According to the guides, they’d never had anyone fall into the water, but just to deter us from making any stupid choices while aboard they had us dip our hands into the lake - Jesus, Mary & Joseph, that water was cold!! Seeing as it had giant ice cubes floating in it, one would expect as much.
Our guide was a British fellow, but I never would’ve guessed... I have to tell you, I’m having a difficult time differentiating accents on this trip. I’m in New Zealand, so when a person starts speaking with a pleasing lilt to their voice you’d think chances would high they'd be Kiwi. Well, the odds are against me, seeing as the majority of the people here aren’t from this country. I’ve learned quickly not to assume anything. Kiwi, British, Australian, plus all the various accents that reside therein, multiplied by the emigrants who’ve been here for years and have muddied accents – BAH! I give up. I’m just going to smile and nod and hand over my money.
Our guide motored us by some icebergs covered in a layer of gravel and rock. The rocks that rest atop each chunk of ice (and the glacier itself) are there not because they miraculously fell from the sky but were actually once encased in the ice. Over thousands of years a glacier slides and scrapes down a slope and scoops up a lot of rock. Now that the ice is melting those rocks are slowly revealed. So they just sit on top of each dwindling slab waiting to eventually hit the water. With the way the world is going, they won’t have to wait very long.
At one point our guide pulled up alongside an iceberg so that we could touch it. Up close I could see thousands of ice crystals locked together like a gigantic puzzle. Katie and I each broke off a small piece. I licked mine and then popped it in my mouth. This kind of terrified the Chinese tourists that filled our boat. I don’t know what they were so surprised about. It’s pretty much the purest water in the world. Filtered by the earth, untouched by animals or man – you can’t get it any cleaner! It tasted great!
At that moment a call on the radio came through: A new iceberg had just broken off the glacier! All the tour boats raced across the lake like expectant fathers. A newborn iceberg! How glorious! Teal blue glowed from its center as it held tight against the glacier wall, like a baby to its mother. It was a spectacular site to see, and we were overjoyed to be right there, front and center.
In the end, as we flew across the water and back to the dock, we were both freezing and smiling. With icy ears and weak legs, we marched our way back to the bus. I couldn’t keep my eyes open on the return drive. Once back, we quickly realized that we were both utterly exhausted and absolutely ravenous, but we weren’t at our campsite, so we couldn’t cook or sleep. Instead, we decided to eat a rather pathetic meal of canned tomato & basil tuna on crackers while sitting in The Hermitage Hotel. No, it wasn’t fine dining, but we didn’t care at that point. Our stomachs were even less picky. As long as it was edible we were happy to shove it in our mouths with gusto.
Back at camp we were honored to discover a certain weathered and wise creature living right there in our very campground: He is learned, he is ancient, he is Treebeard. Yes, that lovable Ent ended our day with a thrill when he carried us around on his strong limbs and pondered the world with us. With the day we’d had and the sights we’d seen, you couldn’t have found two happier hobbits in all of Middleearth.