South Island: Lake Matheson and Fox Glacier

Luckily for us, Jessie is a morning person and a natural early riser. She had been exploring a little bit around the campsite before she came in and woke us up. She told us, very calmly, to look outside. When we all rolled over to get a glimpse out the window we were met by one of the most beautiful views of the trip. TJ nearly dove out of the top bunk to get outside and actually yelled, “Get me outta here!” when he saw what lay at our doorstep. We poured out of the van and looked at what we had parked in front of. The huge, snow-capped Mount Tasman was standing there, in the morning light and misty clouds, waiting to say hello. Our collective jaws literally dropped. We had to laugh that we had this unreal scene in front of us the whole night. Lake Matheson, Fox Glacier, and Franz Joseph Glacier were all relatively close to each other so it was really easy for us to spend the next 2 days bouncing between the 3, getting the best of it all.

We ate breakfast and took a quick drive to Lake Matheson. This is the lake that if you buy a post card from New Zealand, it is probably on the front. It acts as almost a perfect mirror to the Tasman Mountains and we couldn’t wait to see it. By the time we got to the lack the clouds had begun to gather low in the mountains and the sun was struggling to shine. But it didn’t matter. Anyone could find a postcard or Google Image of the lake in perfect (and probably photo-shopped) weather. It just made the whole thing more realistic that we had a little imperfection thrown in the mix. There was a nice trail through the woods to get to a couple of overlooks onto the water. They were all spectacular. We took a ton of photos, and even though it was cloudy the lake was pretty still and reflected the mountain and the sky beautifully. We could even take upside-down pictures and not be able to tell them from the regular one. We stayed for a long time admiring the view before we decided to head to our next adventure; Fox Glacier.

We didn’t have a guided tour or anything planned for Fox because there is a trail you can take to get pretty close to the glacier and we had all already booked a full-day all-inclusive tour of Franz Joseph the next day so we figured we could just explore a little on our own. It was an excellent choice. After a good night sleep and an amazing morning our spirits were all high, which meant we were having a great time on the glacier even though the weather wasn’t quite cooperating. It rained periodically throughout the afternoon. We walked up as close to the glacier as we could get, took lots of pictures, made lots of jokes, I laughed so hard I got a stitch, and slowly made our way back to the van making sure that we didn’t miss anything on the way in. Amanda and I were being particularly silly, a bond that has stuck even since we've returned to Auckland. Along the 30 minute walk to and from the glacier we were surrounded by high cliffs that were peppered with waterfalls. There was a lot to take in all at once, you know, besides the giant glacier. We realized that every few feet or so someone had made little Zen statue-like piles of rocks. They started appearing everywhere and it was like a game trying to find them all. There was a little valley next to the trail we were on that was laced with little streams from the glaciers and waterfalls. TJ noticed that there was a bit of glacier (aka ice) floating in the stream next to us. Obviously we needed to keep it. So he ventured down into the water and fished out our new pet/mascot Foxy the Fox Glacier. He was very proud of his find and a random guy on the trail (I’m pretty sure he didn’t speak English) started snapping pictures of TJ posing with his glacier, even positioning him to get the best angle. The ridiculousness of it all was hysterical. And Foxy stayed with us, in the freezer, for the rest of the trip.
Back by the parking lot there was an amazing little lake that the most unreal colors in it I have ever seen in nature. I don’t know if it was algae or just the reflection of the sky and clouds and trees but it looked unnatural it was so bright. We sat for a while, skipping rocks and just being happy. The rain had stopped and the sun was starting to win its battle with the clouds. I made a comment about how perfect it would all be if we saw a rainbow. As soon as I finished my sentence Jessie pointed behind me and when we turned around there was a huge rainbow stretching across the parking lot. And a shiver ran down my spine. We took pictures under the rainbow and watched it fade away. We were utterly content and decided to explore town a little bit for a place to have dinner. As we were driving away another rainbow, this time a double, spread out across the road ahead of us. We pulled over and got to admire it, since it seemed meant for us to begin with. I’m not going to lie, I said a little thank you prayer right then and there because I don’t think I’ve ever felt more blessed; having one of the best days of my life with some of my closest friends, in New Zealand, where we had the luxury to stop and stare at rainbows on the side of the road. It was necessary. Again we piled back into the car and went to the campsite to park so we could walk around as it had turned into a really nice evening.

On our way to town Amanda ran into a friend from home! She knew he was traveling in the South Island but she didn’t know where he would be when. We were just walking down a back street and he was walking in the other direction. SO WEIRD. Anyway, we chatted for a while and mentioned that we were hiking the Franz Joseph the next day. A confused look passed over his face and told us that he just tried to book a tour of the glacier and they wouldn’t let him because the melting damage was making conditions too dangerous to take tours. We hadn’t heard anything about our booking but we had been traveling so we got really concerned. Jessie and I sent our group to scout out a restaurant while we went to the base camp and checked things out. When were got there it was packed. My stomach dropped. We waited in line and guessed at all the alternatives, trying to come with some sort of plan to bring back to our friends it the news was the worst. When it was our turn the girl behind the counter was really kind to us an calmly explained that they had been trying to reach us because what we had heard was right, they couldn’t take us up the glacier they way we had booked the trip. But. We had three other options. 1) get a full refund (eh… not great but ok), 2) two people could switch to the half-day hike that only explored the base of the glacier (not ideal because we wanted to stay together and how were we going to decided who got to go…) 3) pay an extra fee and take a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier above where the damage was and be the first to hike a whole new section of the glacier. Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner. A couple of people decided to take the half-day tour and got a small refund back but the rest of us wanted the full glacier experience and if that meant riding in an awesome helicopter, so be it.

 Jessie and I ran to the restaurant to tell the group the deal, we made our decisions, ran back to the shop before it closed and reserved our spots. Drama over. We had a really fun night having someone else cook dinner for us and recapped everything we had seen and done so far over a beer. The other van was on their way and met up with us for a few minutes to swap quick stories and then head off to a different camp site they found on the beach. We were happy with our spot since it was powered and in a great location. Still happy and very full we walked back to our mobile home and got a good night sleep in preparation for the big day ahead.
Fun Fact: Fox Glacier is 8 miles long and drops 8,500 feet on its way to meet the Southern Alps. It was named after William Fox, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

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