A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand - part 3

Christchurch to Franz Josef

sunny 10 °C
View Around the world in a few months! on Labgirluk's travel map.


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Well it started off well. We were all on board and seatbelts on, ready to leave on time. Then the engines got shut down and we were told that we’d be taking on some people from a cancelled flight to Timaru... Once they’d boarded we’d all settled back in only to be told we were waiting for one more transferred passenger... After a few minutes a clearly unhappy captain came on the system and apologised as there had been a miss-communication and said last person wasn’t, in fact, coming on board... We eventually took off an hour later than scheduled... The weather was clear so had a lovely view of the east coast and got a few shots of the snow-capped mountains in the background and the sea in the fore.
Once in Christchurch we set off as soon as we’d collected bags and loaded the bus/trailer and headed north to Kaikoura. We had a quick stop in Cheviot to grab some lunch and then carried on to Kaikoura. After checking in to our lodgings for the night, The White Morph, we headed out to South Bay to do a little headland walk, ending at Keen’s point. Here, there were seals just resting on the boardwalk or in the grass just by where you walk. Don’t get too close or they may bark, or worse, at you... But generally they just lay there enjoying their rest and ignoring the fact that everyone had to walk around them. We all headed out for dinner to a place called ‘The Whaler’. Food was pretty good.
The following morning 3 off us headed out to air kaikoura aero club airfield, while others went off to go swimming with dolphins or whale watching by boat. Of the 3 of us, 1 was whale watching by plane. The other 2, of which I was one of those, were going to be piloting a plane... After being weighed (really didn’t like that but it was necessary) the pilot and I headed to the little 2 seater plane and got settled in, strapped in and headphones on. The pilot was doing the take off and landing but after showing me what to do let me control the plane and fly around over the Kaikoura area. It was an amazing feeling but the controls were so sensitive and, with it being a light plane, any changes in wind and air pockets meant you were constantly adjusting height and keeping the wings level. Too soon it was time to hand over controls and come in to land. He landed the plane on the grass runway as it’s gentler on the tyres and a softer landing for us. As a result of this I now have a certificate and 0.4hrs that can logged if I want to consider learning to fly.
After being dropped back into town I gave in and bought myself a down jacket (had hoped to get away with multiple layers but that wasn’t working) and then a quick tasty lunch from Asian Taste (a little cabin but good food) before all meeting up to head on to our next stop off the tour.
Back on the road after lunch and heading southwards to go to Hanmer Spring, turning off to go via Waiau and Marble Point Winery for a quick wine tasting. Some of the wines weren’t to my taste (Riesling and red were def not my cup of tea, sav blanc was ok and same for chardonnay), but the honey mead/wine and manuka honey liqueur were definitely more to my liking! Back on the road we passed through Rotherham (extremely small village and nothing like where I live!) and eventually arrived in Hanmer Springs.
Jonno had kindly offered to cook for us so those that wanted to went across the road to the Hanmer Springs thermal pools... This was bliss. The pools were large and different ones had different temperatures and properties. I ended up spending most of my time in the Hexagonal pool – temp of approx 38-40c and a high mineral mix – leaving my skin super soft and me majorly chilled out...
The following morning we were up and out at a decent time so that we could travel over to Franz Josef. As the weather looked good Jonno decided we would go over Arthur’s pass rather than Lewis pass. It would take a little bit longer but the views were worth it. We had some cloud as we left but we were rewarded with it lifting as we travelled. After driving back to state highway 1 and heading towards Christchurch we turned off at Amberley and headed across towards the west coast. Randomly we passed through Oxford and then a few kilometres later Sheffield. In both cases blink and you’d miss them, unlike the UK ones... We did stop at Springfield for a group photo with the giant doughnut... Once on the west coast we had a quick stop at hokitika to have a nosey at the greenstone shops, then Ross, an ex gold mining town. Unfortunately, due to it being a Sunday nothing was open for us to have a look around. We did the obligatory group shot in the giant picture frame and Al, one of the guys in our group, ‘volunteered’ to go in the stocks and be photographed....
On the outskirts of Franz Josef we had a quick detour to the beach at Okarito to watch the sunset. Had to slap on the bug repellent as there were a few sand flies around – not as many as expected but still enough! We arrived at the Rainforest Retreat and checked in before heading to the on site resort bar/restaurant for dinner and a few drinks – had to make the most of happy hour and a late start the following day...
The following day everyone got ready for their various activities. Some went up for a scenic helicopter flight, some quad biking, some heli hiking and others just going for walks around the area. I opted for the heli hike.... A 3 hour hike up on the glacier, after being helicoptered up there, and then down back down after. You can no longer walk up the glacier after the landslide took out the road to get to the base. They made the decision that the only way to get up there now is by helicopter. After getting togged up in waterproof trousers and jacket we then got socks, boots and carry bag. Hat and gloves were also added if required. In the bag were the crampons we’d need to be able to walk on the ice and not fall on our butts all the time!
We were a group of 11, with 7 being from our tour group, and were taken up to the start point in 2 helicopters. We were told, while waiting to come down, that the guides have to create and maintain the heli pad themselves. Only allowed 6 new heli pads a year, due to their destructive nature – creating a flat area big enough to land a helicopter and not catch the rotors on overhead ice is not good for the glacier so they’re limited to the number of new ones they can create. There was another group ahead of us and one behind us. Once on the ice it was time to put the crampons on. Easy enough to put on but harder to remember you have an extra inch in height in the form of spikes. You need to lift your leg slightly higher than normal to walk or climb steps. Thankfully a pole was also supplied to help us as well as hints and tips on how best to walk in crampons. After the group was all sorted we were off. Up a few steps and then we see the first bit.. Down some steps into a crevasse and then steps up the other side. For any parts they felt we’d need extra help they had added a rope hand rail. At times this was gratefully used, in addition to the pole.
We walked through narrow gaps, under arches, slid down through a hole with steps in the other side as well as walking on the top of the ice. We even walked past a small waterfall where it was melting higher up and making its way down the ice to the river below. We had a short break on a flat area for snack time... Here, there were ice covered puddles of water but we had a bit more freedom walking around than up until then. In some places we had to follow the steps of the guide pretty closely to ensure we walked on the solid ice... After our break we carried on and started to head back towards the helipad. While having a break and chat we heard very loud rumbling. Over on the other side of the glacier, near the top, there was a large rockfall happening. Big dust cloud resulted but didn’t come near us. Someone radio’d our guide asking about the rockfall location (normally on other side of glacier, nearer where we were walking, so this was a rare sighting seeing one in the right hand cliff face) and then asked if he’d got any good photos of it!
From there we headed back down into the crevasses to make our way back to the start. In the past they used to do a ‘there and back’ route but that caused problems getting groups past each other so they changed to a loop route – also means we got experience more of the glacier too. The ice in places was so blue, and in other white, all depending on time of year the ice was formed, or whether it was water or snow created, angle of ice etc. We were also told that the glacier moves up to a metre a week in winter but up to 1 metre a day in summer... This means that in winter every week new routes have to be set up and steps created but in summer that is a daily check and reset of steps etc as required. Even on our hike the guide was having to pick axe at the steps to improve them or widen gaps we were walking through.
The whole experience was just amazing. Originally I was only going to go on a scenic flight. Thankfully I, well Jonno, managed to get it cancelled and changed to this. Hadn’t been on my bucket list but it rapidly got added....
Once back down at base and divested of all the gear some of us headed into the hot pools for a bit of relaxation before dinner.
This trip has certainly been one roller-coaster of new and amazing experiences... And this isn’t the end of it....

Posted by Labgirluk 11:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset sunrise hanmer_springs kaikoura franz_josef hot_pools piloting arthur's_pass snow_capped_mountains

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