Monday, December 7, 2009

NZ - Franz Josef Glacier

My day began at about 6am.  An alarm was going off… and going off… and wouldn’t stop.  Then the German girl got up, spent a horrendous amount of time in the bathroom, I think her alarm went off again at some point, and overall the timeline gets a bit sketchy when I’m half-awake / half-asleep.  I peered out the window and saw brilliant sunshine, so I tried to ask the girl what time it was; but all I got was an angry-looking mumble of a whole bunch of words.

After some milling about, Svenja and I opted to do the 5.5 hr Roberts Point Track alongside the glacier, whereas Jojo & Jordan went for the ::cough:: 1 hour glowworm cave track.  Clearly I have my opinions over who wussed out, though to be fair Jordan has been here before & has already been around the glacier.

Our trek was rather painful, though now that I sit here and notice that my legs really aren’t sore at all: I now realize it actually wasn’t so bad.  It was just hot and humid, and I needed far more than about half a liter of water in my pack.  It’s a bit aggravating to pass by nice mountain stream after stream & not be able to drink from it due to nasty microscopic stuff in it… but at least the water made for some refreshing cold as I’d splashed it along my arms.

Svenja and I had some fun chats, of which a decent share revolved around Jojo.  Poor Jordan: I think he really likes Jojo (granted, who wouldn’t?), but I suspect he’s not yet aware that she already has a boyfriend.  Apparently her boyfriend is a really really nice guy, and guys keep hitting on Jojo on the premise that the boyfriends is far away: but she’s thus far stayed true.

Jojo really just likes to be friends with people.  The problem is that she’s flirtatious and makes excellent eye contact, so it’s certainly understandable that every man she speaks to is going to think that she’s absolutely infatuated with them.  Heck, I’d been thinking much the same thing up until I started to think that she just isn’t quite aware of the impression she casts upon men; and my conversation with Svenja only confirmed those suspicions.  I told Svenja to share with Jojo the phrase “you’re like a brother to me” to kindly quash the hopes & dreams of every man she comes across, as I’ve been trying to think of her more like a sister just to keep my own mind straight.

The track itself was a bit of a challenge in that it went up and down to almost no end.  Every step was slippy, with a potentially lethal ending should you make a mistake.  There were several swing bridges along the way, including one with a maximum load of 1 person.  There was a wooden walkway at one point which gave me a touch of vertigo, and a segment of some borderline bouldering just past a sign saying “experienced hikers only, you’re going to die, blah blah blah”.

The top of the track afforded a decent view over the glacier, though memories of Switzerland are still fresh & I’ll never forget the perfect views I’d had back then.  So while the views were only OK, I can’t deny that the hike itself was some great exercise.  Granted, the calories I’d burned were more than likely compensated by the cheesy spätzle and Magnum ice cream bar I ate not too long after returning to town.

There was some lounging about the hostel following, which also included meeting our two new roommates.  That meant we were apparently up to 8 people and 6 beds… that’s when we realized that the Americans & Dutch guy only hired one bed.  So Jordan ended up in their campervan and we acquired two new roommates – a guy & girl from Germany.  They looked very much alike: I wasn’t sure if they were related or just a perfect pairing; though in retrospect the girl seemed to be around me a lot & was frequently trying to initiate conversation… perhaps I shouldn’t have just assumed she was with the guy; she had a cute “geek girl” sort of look.

The lot of us (sans Jersey girl & Dutch guy) departed together to walk up the street a bit & down a forest track, reported to be host to glowworms.  Our trek soon turned up just that: in the uprighted roots of a fallen tree they appeared as if a nighttime sky.  This sparked my memory in that I’d actually been wanting to go see the real nighttime sky for quite awhile now… hence right after I drove down to Okarito, a beachside village near Franz Josef.

This place is a “bring a torch” sort of town, owing to its almost zero nighttime lighting.  The beach is even less than zero, with the celestial sky providing my illumination whilst out there.  Without a moon, it was so dark that Jupiter cast a noticeable glow upon the seas.  The large and small Magellanic Clouds were readily visible – appearing as if real terrestrial puffs of cloud overhead.  The spiral arms & core of the Milky Way were unfortunately hidden just barely over the horizon, along with the Southern Cross.

While I could just barely see the dimmest bands of our galaxy’s reach, I did immediately spot Orion’s Belt.  However, I had a bit of trouble figuring out where Sirius was… usually the easiest thing to find, and undoubtedly my favorite star.  There was an unimaginably bright star to the right of Orion which I couldn’t quite identify, but later into the evening an astronomer just happened to arrive and noted that that bright star was indeed Sirius.  His explanation also helped clarify my confusion as to why Betelgeuse – Orion’s fiery redhead – was at the bottom.  When you cross to the southern hemisphere: northern hemisphere constellations apparently become inverted.

Best I can figure, it’s not because of any weird optical effect; rather, it’s just that you’re standing upside-down from what you’re used to.  However, I’m scratching my head as to how it might look nearer to the equator… or wherever the inversion occurs…

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