New Zealand | Fox Glacier, Take One

The day of our wedding, it poured rain in a way it could only do in Texas – thunder, lightning, the whole bit. While we had made rain plans, we had chosen our venue because we wanted to have an outdoor wedding/bbq/camp fire. Moments before walking down the aisle, a bolt of lightning touched down in the distance, and a huge gust of wind knocked over all our flowers…and then, just like that, it was over. We escaped the thunderstorm (although we heard from our vendors that other weddings just within the five mile radius had not been so lucky), enjoyed a beautiful sunset, and danced all night under a full moon.

We were extremely lucky, and we knew it.

I said to Sly that considering how lucky we got, whatever happened on this trip weather-wise didn’t matter, because after our wedding, everything else was really just gravy.

I’m bringing this up because on this day, we had plans to take a helicopter ride to the top of Fox Glacier for a half day hike. The weather didn’t cooperate – the storm made visibility and conditions impossible for flying and hiking. It was a day where we enjoyed down time at a cozy cafe with lots of hot coffee, and where we planned the remainder of our trip in this little cafe. Sly also decided to accept his current job on this day – I remember that because  we were lucky enough to be in a place with a decent internet connection.

I guess this is what they call fate stepping in.


Sly officially accepting his job offer


Little birdy eating scraps from another table

By midday, our errands were complete, so we decided to explore the area. I wanted to drive up the coast to a little beach town of Hokitika to make some Jade jewelry at a shop that lets you pick your own piece of raw jade, design the piece, grind it and sand it, etc. We arrived by late afternoon, just when everything was closing. The shop was still open, but the guy informed us that making a piece of jade jewelry takes ALL DAY, and that the two guys in there had been there since 8am. I was a bit heartbroken – I sort of wanted a jade pendant as a souvenier of our trip, and thought it would have been awesome to design my own. Most of the jade jewelry we saw in NZ were all very Maori symbolic tribal looking or just pyramid shaped.

Unsure of what to do now, and with our options limited (since it seemed everything in NZ closed before 4pm), we continued driving up and through Arthur’s Pass – a highway that somehow impossibly exists between the tiniest breath of the extremely rugged Main Divide. The highway followed an old Maori route that wasn’t discovered by Euros until the gold rush era, and was the only road that far North that connected the East and West Coasts.

The weather at this point was stormy, with borderline ice and hail – the kind of weather that makes you want to sit in a cabin all day and drink hot cocoa. The temperature was also about 40 degrees colder than the warmer coast…it was freezing. But, there was something beautiful about this harsh, remote landscape, where people often went missing during the winters, only to turn up again (dead) as the frost cleared. It probably took a really tough sort of mountain man person to make a journey like that, through these mountains, on foot, without any modern technology. I didn’t know what it was, perhaps a combination of the history of the pass, and the rugged beauty, that just sort of made me feel like I had been punched in the gut.


We passed through town after town, each one looking more weathered and abandoned than the rest. Once again, it seemed as if there were houses and shops and cars, but no life, not even a light in the window. We called this phenomena, “Krakatoa” – it was as if people just disappeared one day, and left everything behind in complete working order.

Some way along the twisted highway, we saw a sign for “Dead Man’s Curve” — it was too tempting to pass up. We drove up the steeply inclined hill, feeling as if our car would slide down at any second, plunging us into the valley below. At the top, we got out to take in the view and we saw this sign. For a brief moment, we were confused. “What kea,” we thought. A couple minutes later, we would discover why that sign was placed there.




Hello. If you don’t feed me, I will peck out your entrails disperse of them over this entire valley. Got that?


Two sassy keas flew down immediately when they saw us. We guessed they were used to being fed by other tourists, and knew that when a car pulled up, it was chow time. We played with them and had a grand ol’ time, but when we got in the car, we heard the familiar clacking on our roof, reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie. They were on the top of the van, pecking and clawing to get in. Not long after, we found the ONE place open – a lodge in the middle of nowhere, and while waiting for dinner, we read about the history of the lodge. There were photos in the book of many disemboweled livestock. The caption underneath the photos read, “cattle killed by keas.” A further description mentioned that the kea’s razor sharp claws and beak were capable of poking through t livestock hide, disembowling them. Aren’t you glad we got so close to these friendly creatures! Stupid tourists!


Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing a light on in a hotel lodge in the remoteness of those mountains. People! Food! Hot drinks! After driving on the road to nowhere for so long, once again without seeing anyone, it was a relief to sit in a cozy lodge and see other people. In a way, it was borderline creepy – like those stories about two travelers lost in the woods who find a light on in the cabin, and are welcomed by the innkeepers…only to be killed and eaten or something by the village…

After dinner, drinks, and lots of lingering, we drove back through the pass towards the coast, and stopped at the Glow Worm Dell – a tiny trail off the side of the road that led to glow worms. We made our way through complete darkness (flashlights and noise scare the worms), feeling our way to the end of the trail, and then, we saw the most magical fairy-tale-like sight – a million glittering irridescent lights in a canopy above us, and once again, only me and Sly to enjoy it together.

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