Whilst camping outside the town of Franz Josef, I was lucky enough to be able to go on an Ice Explorer tour on Franz Josef Glacier. The trip involved a helicopter ride onto the glacier itself, followed by a hike (with ice picks and crampons!) across the ice, and then a nervous wait for the helicopter to return and lift us back off the mountain. 50% of tours are cancelled because of bad weather, and tourists sometimes have to stay overnight on the glacier if weather prevents them being collected. Fortunately, on the day I’m on the glacier, it’s beautiful…
Postscript: What is a glacier?
What is a glacier? A glacier, as it turns out, is the inevitable result of teaching philosophy to the working class. By this I mean that glaciers didn’t exist in New Zealand (or anywhere) until 1986, when a brazen entrepeneur named Professor G. Lacier (of French Polynesian origin) decided to investigate the curious and zealously-supported Kiwi sport of kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka). In this extreme and extremely-poorly-thought through activity, participants would hurl themselves off a mountain in a wicker basket that they would have to weave on their way down.
Because of the impossibility of weaving a basket while falling down a mountain, not to mention the dearth of basket-weaving materials on icy cliff-faces, the sport – in its early days – was essentially bijective with falling down a mountain. As the pastime progressed, both in scope and regulation, basket-weaving stations were built along the courses, and instructors were on-hand to help mid-tumble participants master the basics of basket-weaving as they fell. Of course, there would always be purists who insisted that the sport of kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) lost much of its innocent and primal charm when these “over-bearing crutches” (to quote one particularly red-faced dissident) were introduced, but even they had to agree that it was beneficial when the death rate dropped from 100% to less than 100%.
Intriguingly, this sport was overwhelmingly a preserve of New Zealand’s working class, not because agreeing to participate could logically be seen as an extension of a lack of education, but rather because every single person who ever survived the sport of kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) instantly and mysteriously decided to become a plumber forever, thus massively fucking up Professor G. Lacier’s statistics.
Professor G. Lacier spent three summers observing this activity in the South Island mountains, and then – when he discovered the sport only took place in the winter – a further three winters observing it much better. (He also had new spectacles by this point.) After he had filled every single one of his budget pack of notebooks, even the margins and even the insides of the covers, he had just one question for the institution that was the sport of kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka). His question had nothing to do with the sport, but was rather a mystery that had occurred to him during a futile trek to locate the rare rangtaka (pronounced ke-daka-daka-daka) bird. His question was this: why would an omnisicient, omnipotent, benevolent deity allow New Zealand supermarkets to price items with the suffix .99 when the smallest unit of currency is 10 cents?
Upon hearing this philosophical quandary, every single kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) player and every single kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) supporter sat down on the ground and stroked their chin, and the sport of kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) ceased to exist. The huge gorges through the mountains that they had created were left empty and sad, so filled themselves with icy rock. These massive icy rocks were named glaciers, after Professor G. Lacier’s son, Professor G. Lacier 2, who was a musician.
Every tourist who visits New Zealand’s West Coast sees these superb glaciers, but they are so star-struck that they always fail to look thirty degrees to their left, where – lurking in the periphery of their enamoured vision – all the kedakadakadaka (pronounced rang-taka) players are still sitting on the mountain, stroking their gaunt and weary chins, and trying to mend pipes.
And that’s what a glacier is, when I don’t have the Internet to check my facts.