WOW! What a day! And I’ll say it again….WOW! When I woke this morning I honestly had no idea what I was going to do today and literally knew nothing about any of the things that I ended up doing…..and WOW, what a day!!! 🙂
So I guess it’s fair to say that today actually began last night; although I didn’t know it at the time. Let me explain…..last night I arrived in Franz Josef village and checked into my room. I was staying at a hostel in a four bed shared room (I’ve been mixing between hostels and Airbnb depending on availability) and one of my suite mates was talking about what she was doing the next day (for those who may never have traveled outside the US and/or stayed in a hostel (I’ve stayed in quite a few, mostly in Europe) it’s not uncommon to have “mixed” suites (men and women)). She mentioned she was taking a helicopter to view the glacier. At the time I didn’t think anything of it as I planned to hike to the glacier viewing area.
When I woke this morning I checked the weather forecast and it called for mostly sunny this morning with a chance of rain in the afternoon and rain for the next 3 days! I was like ugh, there go the mountain views. So I got up and ate breakfast and headed to the village information center. I have to say this is one area (among many) where New Zealand really have it together. Since the tourist industry in NZ is such a large part of their economy they really go above and beyond to assist travelers….even lowly backpackers staying in hostels. 🙂 Throughout NZ they have these centers marked with a blue lower case “i”. The people here are very knowledgeable about their areas and can assist with accommodations, site seeing bookings, trail (or as they say in NZ track) suggestions, etc.
So, I went to the “i” and assuming everything would already be booked for the day asked if there was any chance of getting a helicopter ride today. He said, “yeah, you should be able to get something today, what time did you want to go”. I said, the sooner the better (knowing the weather was supposed to get worse in the afternoon). He suggested a local (NZ) owned company and showed me their different packages. They had one that went to Franz Josef Glacier, landed on the glacier and returned. One that did only Fox Glacier. One that did both….and one that did both plus flew over the entire divide with up close views of Mt. Tasman (Google
), NZ second highest peak (11,473 ft) and Mt. Cook (Google
), NZ highest peak (12,218 ft). Since seeing Mt. Cook was literally at the top of my NZ list (you know me and mountains) I asked if he could contact them to see when if they had availability for the “the works”, thinking they probably did not. So he called and asked if they had an opening for 1 and said to me, “They can get you in at 10:20”, it was 9:45, without hesitation I said, “Book It!”.
After that he gave me a suggestion for a good, challenging, somewhat off the beaten path hike to the view the glacier (for safety reasons you cannot hike to the glacier) and gave another suggestion for a shorter hike to a tunnel/cave in the mountains to view glow worms (more on that later). I thanked him for his help, and drove the 3 minutes (Franz Josef village is not that big 🙂 to the helicopter operator. I checked in and walked across the street for a “flat white” (Wiki
)….my new favorite drink. 🙂
I returned on time, they gave us some quick safety information and led us (myself, a couple from AU and a family of 3 from Japan) to the helicopter. I’ve flown in a couple of helicopters but never over 12,000’+ mountains or landed on a glacier. Needless to say I was very excited.
I don’t know how to describe it other than to say it was absolutely, unbelievably amazing! 🙂 It’s not something you’d want to do if you were afraid of heights because man-oh-man were we up there but holy cow what spectacular views! I was a little concerned before we took off as, from where we were, the tops of the mountains were already starting to disappear into the clouds. However, when we got up into the “real” mountains it was very clear except for some pesky clouds hanging around the top of Mt. Cook. As we flew I know I had my finger on the picture button probably 37 of the 40 minutes of the trip 🙂 (I posted them on the View Photos link). I was in sensory overload between the beauty of what my eyes were seeing all around me, the exhilaration of flying and the slightest bit of fear from being so high as the helicopter hit turbulence every time we got closer to the big mountains. It was just incredible. Here is a small sample of pictures. Click the View Photos on the right to view all photos….
|The Tasman ocean in the background
We landed on the glacier and got to spend about 10 minutes taking pictures, throwing snowballs and just having a good time…..
|My attempt at snow angels 🙂
I had a good conversation with our pilot while we were on the ice. He was from Scotland and served as a pilot in the service there. He has been in NZ for 22 years and used to do this full time but only does it part time now. He was a really nice guy and very informative.
When we took off he headed down the valley zigzagging back and forth across the width of the glacier so everyone would get sick (just kidding), so everyone could see from both sides and get some good pictures of the ice flow. He told us there are more than 3000 glaciers in New Zealand and only 3 in the world (Franz Josef, Fox in New Zealand and one in Argentina) that extend from a mountain into a tropical forest. It’s pretty unique that these glaciers are just a few air miles from the ocean (you can see the Tasman sea in several of the pictures).
What an amazing experience. I’m so thankful the weather held out (it did cloud up and eventually rain later in the afternoon) and that I was able to get in with such short notice.
After I returned I was floating about 10,000 off the ground just from the euphoria of what I had just experienced. I was pumped baby! ha ha
I went back to my place, grabbed my hiking gear and headed out for the Roberts Point Track. I was told it was a good technically challenging track of about 12km (7.5 miles) and would take 5:30 round trip. I set out to do it in 4.
Before you get to Roberts Point Track you take a short track that takes you past a place called Peter’s Pool. When the water is calm, as it was today, you see a beautiful reflection of the mountains….
The sad thing about this area is that as recent as just 1954 you could see the glacier from Peter’s Pond (see below). Now it’s a 6km hike from Peter’s Pond just to get to a place where you can see the glacier from probably 5km (or more) away. Our pilot told me that the glaciers have been reseeding dramatically since the early 2000’s. It’s the same with all glaciers around the world and not just in NZ.
After you leave Peter’s Pond you are quickly reminded that the area you are hiking in (to a glacier mind you) is in fact a sub-tropical ecosystem as you walk through lush, thick woods with palm trees and huge ferns….pretty cool….
Once on Robert’s Point Track you are warned that this is your last chance to turn back (ha ha)…..
|How hard can it be???
On the Robert’s Point Track you cross several, really cool, suspended bridges. Most are wooden and vary in length from probably 100′ – 200′.
But the mac daddy of the suspension bridges on this track is the newly completed (2015) Roberts Point Swing Bridge that measures 364′. Oh yeah baby, that’s cool!
The next cool feature you come to on this hike is a long winding set of wooden steps anchored to the rock cliff and suspended a couple of hundred feet off the forest floor….
I’ve gotta give it to them, these Kiwi’s do know how to build a good track. 🙂
So after roughly 1:45 of pretty hefty hiking (or tramping as they call it here) with some good uphill rock scrambles, I reached the glacier viewing platform and man-oh-man was it worth the hike….
The track is an out-and-back which means you return the same way you came. I returned quickly as I had one more thing that I wanted to complete today. I made it back to the parking area is just under 4 hours (my goal) and drove back to the village.
My last thing on my agenda for the day was to hike up the mountain on the other side of the valley to an old tunnel that was dug in the early 1900’s to provide water for a gold mining operation. The tunnel is over 1/4 of a mile straight into the mountain. Now the draw for this walk is not the hike up the mountain, although it is good, nor is it to walk through a tunnel (I’ve been in quite a few mines, tunnels and caves), the draw for this is to see glowworms (Doc). New Zealand has a lot of places where you can see these tiny little creatures usually in caves or tunnels.
So I headed up the mountain for my last adventure of the day. The people at the information place told me I would need a headlamp, which I had in my bag. However, they did fail to tell me one very important thing (more on this later). I climb the mountain to the entrance of the tunnel….
So I donned my trusty headlamp (actually Rick’s trusty headlamp as mine are 8000 miles away) and headed into the tunnel. So here’s the piece of important information that did not tell me….the tunnel has water flowing through it….up to your ankle’s in some places actually. I went the first 300′-400′ trying to rock hop and stay close to the sides but that wasn’t working too well. I only have the one pair of hiking shoes with me so i did not want to get them wet. So after about 300′-400′ feet I was faced with a decision….turn back…..or take off the shoes. Now, for those who know me (well) you know that turning back is not an option….so, off come the shoes. I left my socks on because I do have rather tender feet 🙂 but I can tell you that some of those rocks were sharp and that water was COLD! I made it almost to the end and thought I had seen something (glowworms) but wasn’t sure. Then I met some people coming back and they told me that to see the glowworms you have to turn off your headlamp…..yeah, this just keeps getting better and better. So, off it goes.
So here I am, in a tunnel, 1/4 of a mile into the mountain, carrying my shoes, wading through ice cold water in my socks, walking in absolute complete and utter darkness, using my right hand (the one not holding my shoes) to feel my way through and looking up at the ceiling for glowworms. Yeah baby! 🙂 But I have to say, that did the trick because as soon as I turned off my light there they were. There wasn’t a ton of them like you can see in some pictures on the internet but in some areas had quite a few. The only way I can describe it is that it was like looking up at the sky at night and seeing a few stars dotting the sky. It was like looking at a constellation in some places. It was pretty cool and something that I am really glad I experienced. I tried to take some pictures but it was difficult at best. Here are a couple with some of the brighter ones….
On my walk back to where I was staying I passed an old bus with a trailer behind it parked on the street and just couldn’t help to take this picture because I thought it was so funny….
Of course it wouldn’t be funny if I was the one stuck behind him for 10 miles on one of the mountain
So what an incredible day. In the morning I was 12,000′ above the earth, in mid afternoon I was hiking on the surface of the earth and in late afternoon I was 1/4 mile below the surface of the earth. As I started this blog WOW…..just WOW!!!
|Where Am I