Here for a day's heli- hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier that we landed on on our Mt Cook flight. Hope the weather holds.
A thing we forgot to mention about our journey from Glenorchy to Franz Joseph was that, shortly after leaving Wanaka (which was so beautiful we had to stop to admire the views over a coffee) we stopped at a viewpoint to take in the glorious Lake Hawea.Quite a few other cars had stopped to admire the view so it was a good place from which to hitch a lift - and indeed there was a solitary young man standing at the side of the road with all his gear. This is a very isolated area and public transport is practically nil so we did our good deed for the day and gave him a lift. He was from Israel and travelling around NZ for a couple of months camping and doing serious tramping (which is what NZers call long distance hiking). Haven't seen many hitchhikers so far but this was the second time we'd picked one up.The first was a Manx lad, rucksack on his back striding along the road outside Invercargill aiming to get to Dunedin. And we did offer a lift to a couple of pairs of girls at Glenorchy but we weren't going in the right direction.From Lake Hawea the route to Franz Josef Glacier (FJG) on the West Coast took us over the magnificent Haast Pass.After reaching the flat on the western side of the pass we turned northwards and straight into a fabulous view of yet more snow clad mountains and glaciers, and to signs welcoming us to 'Glacier Country'.Haast itself, where we dropped off our hitchhiker, was a tiny place sitting almost at the mouth of the Haast River where it meets the Tasman Sea.But we were headed for the township of FJG and still had a fair way to go.This was the first time we were actually driving up the west coast and immediately commented that it was very much like parts of Australia.The road wound up and down along the coast with wonderful sea and coastal views, and the flora was so similar to that of the coastal bush in New South Wales.We arrived in FJG to see the mountains and the glaciers right at the end of the main street.
It's now later and the weather did hold - at least long enough for us to do the heli-hike. It was a fine, sunny morning when we checked at 7am and was still fine when we checked in as instructed for the first flight at 09.15. After getting kitted out in thick socks, sturdy boots and a waterproof jacket twe set off down the track to the heli-pad where Jamie our pilot was waiting. The ten of us were split into two groups as the helicopter only takes six max, for the flight up the valley and on to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was a short but thrilling flight as Jamie took us so very close to the towering mountains. At one point it looked as if he was flying straight into the side of one only to gain height at the very last moment and just skim over it making all our stomachs loop the loop! This being NZ, they try to make every activity seem a bit more dangerous and Jamie is probably bored stiff doing the 'thrill' bit - but we enjoyed anyway!
On touchdown on the glacier we met Gavin our quide who was waiting for us on the ice. After strapping on our crampons and the arrival of the second group we were off on our two-hour trek across the glacier. Suddenly, high clouds obliterated the sun and it became pretty chilly. But once we got into the swing of walking on ice with crampons and moving ahead steadily we soon warmed up. Gavin must have gotten warm pretty quickly as he wielded a very heavy pick to cut steps out of the ice to ease our passage. What a brilliant experience clambering up and down chasms and crevasses. Then at the end Gavin had us crawling and slithering through a narrow ice tunnel - such great fun we didn't even mind the soaking wet bums (and E's screeved knee) we ended up with. By this time heavier clouds had rolled in and by the time we got back down to the village (feeling very exhilerated) the rain had set in and the remaining trips that day looked very doubtful. Once again we were really lucky with the weather and really lucky to have got our heli-hike. After a big bowl of warming soup we set to explore the foot of the glacier just outside the township. The 'terminal face' is an impressive wall of ice and rock. So now we have been on the top (when we landed by ski plane from Mount Cook), on the middle (today's heli-hike) and at the bottom - three very different perspectives and experiences.
The following morning was dull and overcast with heavy rain (as forecast) so we took the opportunity to have a lie-in. When we got up for brekkie we discovered that some of our food had been stolen from our bag in the fridge - swines! We lost half a dozen eggs, meat and a few beers. It adds a sour note to hostelling where you have to rely on sharing kitchens, facilities and therefore people's honesty. However we put that behind us and set off for a short walk in the rain around Lake Matheson and, the other major glacier here, Fox. As we'd lost a pound of mince overnight we thought we'd go looking to replace it with Fox's Glacier 'mince'! But we'd no luck, although the foot of the Fox is probably more impressive than that of the Franz. We must admit that we were feeling a bit tired today so spent the evening at the hostel (keeping an eye on our food - just joking!) and catching up with this blog.
E M xxx