15th- 17th May
We had a very long drive today. 479km to be exact! But it was a lovely scenic drive. We drove some of the Inland Scenic Route 72 and then drove the Great Alpine Highway through Arthur's Pass. Arthur's Pass is a mountain pass in the Southern Alps. It marks part of the boundary between the West Coast and Canterbury regions, 140 km from Christchurch and 95 km from Greymouth. The pass lies in a saddle between the valleys of the Otira River, a tributary of the Taramakau, in the west and the Bealey River in the east. Arthur's Pass lies on the border of the Selwyn and Westland. State Highway 73 passes over Arthur's Pass and is the highest of only three roads crossing the Southern Alps, the other crossings being the Haast Pass and the Lewis Pass. The drive over the pass was good, especially across Otira Viaduct.
Once through Arthur's Pass National Park to the west coast, we were doing the drive from just after Greymouth to Franz Josef that we have already done before, the only difference being that there was more snow on the mountains this time! We got to Franz for around 5pm after being on the road since 8.15am, with a few stops on the way for a while though. For the night we stayed at Doherty Creek where we stayed the last time we came here.
On the 16th the weather was good when we got up. It was sunny and mostly blue skies so we were very hopeful that our glacier trip would go ahead. We relaxed in a cafe until it was time to go check in at 11.30am. They told us that no trips had been out all morning because of bad wind so the pilots wouldn't fly the helicopters, but they said they would get us ready and see what happens. We got kitted out with waterproof trousers, coats, socks and boots, crampons and a bum bag to hold our stuff and crampons in until we got on the ice. Once our trip was ready to go, the group before were able to fly so we were all good to go, thank god! There had been no trips for the last 2 weeks because of bad weather and no trips this morning because of wind, so we were the first trips on the ice in a long while. Our guide, a friendly woman, told us there would be a lot of work for her to do on the ice, carving the path and steps with the pick axe so we would have to be patient.
The helicopter ride to the glacier was only 5 minutes but it was more than enough time and we got fantastic views out to the sea and we could see where the glacier once was all the way to the coast. It is unbelievable how much it has retreated, especially since just 2008! They predict that in 10-15 years trips will no longer be allowed on the ice and in 50-100 years the glacier will pretty much have gone. It really is a once in a lifetime trip!! Franz Josef is New Zealand's 4th largest glacier at 10.5km long and covering an area of 35km. In the helicopter I got the front seat right next to the pilot with another girl and Nath was in the back. There were 11 of us on the trip and everybody was really nice and friendly which made it more enjoyable! We had 3 hours on the ice before taking the helicopter back to base. It was brilliant! The guide had to carve steps for us up and down the ice, we went through very deep crevasses and through mazes of blue and white ice. The scenery was brilliant and it was unreal that we were actually walking (with our crampons on) across a glacier! It was pretty dangerous too, as it was ice it was obviously very slippy and parts were very steep. Nath had a bit of a fall, which could have been much worse than it was. He tripped as we were heading down a steep part and caught his feet. He fell onto his hands and knees and as he tried to get up, twice, he fell back down! He looked like he was going to do a summersault down the ice hill! After noticing he was okay I obviously found it very funny! He just grazed his knees but he was lucky he didn't tumble and hit his head on anything. He's so clumsy!
The trip also included free entry into the glacier hot springs in the town so we went and enjoyed them after we got back. There were 3 pools, 36, 38, and 40 degrees and it was pretty busy but it was still nice and relaxing. After the hot springs we stayed in town and went to a restaurant for something to eat and both had humongous steak burgers! For the night we stayed back at Doherty Creek and saw again another amazing starry sky!
When we woke up on the 17th the view was pretty impressive of the mountains starting to peek out from behind the clouds. We set off early for a half hour drive to Fox Glacier town.