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 Alps & Glaciers 

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This is the coolest page in this website and we are going to climb high on the Southern Alps of New Zealand. This page is about the New Zealand Alps and Glaciers, in particular, the two most important and largely visited by tourist, the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers.

New Zealand's South Island Alps extends for more than 540 Km, beginning at the region of Blenheim on the top of South Island and ending at the Fiords in the South. The highest peak of all is the famous and intrepid Mount Cook,  3,754 metres high. There are more than 20 other peaks 3,000 metres and over lined along this range. Due to the movements of tectonic plates of the Pacific and Australia which fight against each other to see who is stronger, the South Island Alps grow in altitude something around 11 millimetres per year, causing constant small earthquakes in the region. The long chain of mountains is interrupted only in 3 spots called "Pass" where penguin, I mean, construction workers built roads and railways connecting one side of the Island with the other. The Lewis Pass, is the first and it is located South of the town of Blenheim. The next one is the Arthur Pass, in a strait line to the West from the city of Christchurch, and the third is the  Haast Pass, near the towns of Wanaka and Queenstown. There is no other way to go from one side to the other except climbing or flying over the Alps.

The Southern Alps has many sessions that became National Parks and are used by Kiwis and tourist alike for a variety of sports such as alpinism, river Kayaking, river rafting, glider flights and manly trekking during the summer months. Snow ski is practices during the winter ( from June to October) in many fields along the ranges. The ski field sometimes give a hand to nature using snow maker machines that work 24 hour a day for that perfect consistency. These Alps are also famous between Glider fliers trying to break the world record of altitude in one of the best ascendant thermic in the world. For those not very fit to climb or walk distances, there are many options to see the mountains from the top, by small plane or helicopter, including landing on the top for "That" view. If you are an experienced skier, there is the option to go down on your skis, rolling or not. It is called Heli-Ski and it is a big hit at the moment but not cheap.

The Glaciers are not interesting to see from long distance as it is from close by. The are more abundant and beautiful to the South of Arthur Pass where the peaks reach the 3000 metres or more. Going more to the South the ranges diminish in size and the Glaciers are much smaller too. The Tasman Glacier, South of the Mt.Cook, is the longest in the world in this altitude, being 28 Km long. The problem to visit this Glacier is the difficulty of access. By the other side, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Joseph can easily be reached by road. In the village nearby, there is a complete infra structure of eateries, pubs and restaurants, as well as many options of places to stay including Backpacker Hostels (Intercity buses also stop there). It is possible to see the Glaciers in the way your pocket want. You can just follow a trail and got higher as your lungs allow you, or you can jump in a Heli or ski plane and let the motor do the hard work for you. We did both (Heli and plane) and the differences are as follow: 1) Plane was little bit cheaper than chopper. 2) Plane lands on the top on a snow field and turn off the engine to a total silence and stay longer on top. 3) Helis don't turn off the engine and stay shorter, but in compensation it does zig zags inside the valley and that was very enjoyable to me but not to my wife that was thinking to let har breakfast stay frozen forever on ice. What we did was, went to Fox Glacier by Heli and went to Franz Joseph by plane. We let a hole in our credit card but it was unforgettable.

By foot is not easy if you want to reach the top. It is free and you can go as higher as your fitness. Because it is free, it is the most common way people visit the Glaciers but at the same time it is the only way to get in close contact with those huge blocks of Ice. At any time it is not advisable to get out of the trails. Remember that the whole thing is like a live thing moving down and melting slowly. So, cracks can suddenly appear or broken Ice can follow over you. It is a very dangerous thing to do without knowing very well what is going on with the Ice. The colours of the blocks also changes according to the altitude. On low altitudes the Ice is kind of dirty due to the melting and direct contact with the terrain. As much higher you go, some crack and caves will turn blue. That means only one thing...The temperature in the blue Ice is many degrees below zero, sometimes even 40 Celsius below. The photo in this paragraph illustrates not only a blue cave in which you should not enter due the risk of be smashed inside, as well as the guy standing is under a strong risk of the crack under his feet to open suddenly and swallow him. As we said, stick with the track for your safety.

Tip1: You can access both Glacier by bus or train from Christchurch. If by train you will need to get a bus from the train station in the town of Greymouth to the Glaciers. Also, you can access by bus from Queenstown. Note that despite the fact the distance is not too far, the speed on this road and rail are snail style due to the mountains. So, reserve  time.
Tip 2: In Fox Glacier there is an Backpacker style accommodation right in front of the Glacier, at the same point where the bus stops. This place has a nice atmosphere, with a pub and restaurant. It is full of happy your travellers having fun and enjoying themselves.
Tip 3: The trip by train from Christchurch to Greynouth is one of the best train trips in the world in a clear day. From Greymouth connect to the Glacier by bus and sleep over to visit the Glacier the next day. We recommended stay another night and take the early bus next day to Queenstown. From the Glaciers go to Queenstown looks not too far and it is not, but prepare for many hours of journey with great views.

Distances from the Glaciers to:

Greymouth 180 km  2 hours & 45 min
Haast 170 km 2 hours &  30 min
Queenstown 402 km 7 hours & 40 min.
Christchurch 435 km 6 hours
On the top of Franz Joseph Glacier
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