Friday, 31 March 2017

Exhilarating helicopter flight to Fox Glacier

PHIL: Day 47/2 Apr

At 7 a.m. Allie already thinks our plan to leave at 8 is too late. It is true the day is sparkling and she has already glimpsed Mt Cook, over 100km away, on the horizon.
first glimpse of the mountains

Our departure, on the dot of eight, is grumpy because Allie thinks we may have ‘blown’ our planned aeroplane/helicopter flight over the glaciers because cloud is already building as we drive. 

I think she might be right, but Andy has warned us that his Toyota doesn’t take kindly to fast cornering and of course the cast road to Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers is all sharp bends.
Allie boarding the helicopter
At Franz Joseph we try two helicopter outfits (Allie has decided a helicopter will be more fun than an aeroplane) but neither can accommodate us until midday – a two hour wait. 

A third operator can take us in half an hour but from Fox which is 30 minutes drive further south. We opt for this in the hope that we may beat the gathering cloud, and find the guys at Fox very relaxed. 

Furthermore we have the helicopter to ourselves, so it feels like a private charter.

 The pilot looks about 12 years old (I guess it’s my increasing age which has this effect on people in positions of responsibility) but soon has us scooting up the Fox Glacier in broken sunshine which becomes continuous as we crest mountains to reveal the Fox Glacier and, most magnificent of all, Mt. Cook. 
On top of the glacier enjoying the sun and magic views!
Landed briefly on a snowfield at 7900ft. then back past the east face of Mt Cook itself. Gives a really intense insight into glacial structure with bergschrunds, nevees etc which take me back to the Geography Department at Bristol over 40 years ago.

incredible masses of ice and snow flowing down the mountains

Next task is the easy walk to the glacier terminal face which is just as impressive but on a different scale and perspective.

Onward to Wanaka, home of the southern hemisphere’s best airshow this very week – but only in even-numbered years, alas! 

Allie does another of her drives where I am nervous about her concentration and she insists on having windows open to admit freezing air.

If we ever have a serious row it will be over this kind of conflict. We agree she ‘doesn’t do cars’.

ALLIE: DAY 47: Monday, 2nd of April

A helicopter flight up Fox’s Glacier and a drive through wild scenery to Wanaka

Sometimes it would have been better to give dozing around in bed a miss! Certainly today. As it turns out this is a most beautiful morning. Pure sunshine, not a single cloud in the sky and the whole of the mountain range stretching out in front of us.
stunning views over the Fox Glacier
Even the top of Aoraki Mt. Cook – the highest peak in New Zealand with 3754 metres – is clearly visible. We waste another precious 40min by waiting for our breakfast but then we start racing down the 140km to the Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately the road is very windy and our car is not very good around corners. The fist clouds are already building up and we are worried s..less that we may have missed our chance.

View up the Glacier
By 10.00 we get to the little but very touristy town of Franz Josef Glacier and inquire with the various helicopter agencies for available slots. All booked out until 12.15! What a pain. 

By then the weather is forecasted to deteriorate. We try one more agency and tell us to race down to Fox Glacier where we could get a flight at 10.30. Great!

Another windy pass and we arrive to the helipad. Phil is concerned to get a missing type – I don’t care as long as we can go up soon.

The guy behind the sales counter turns our to be our pilot and within minutes I find myself sitting next to him in the front seat of this Mac Donnell Douglas 500E. 

My second helicopter flight and I am really excited about this. The rotator blades start and within a few seconds we zoom off towards the steep valley of Fox Glacier. The visibility is incredible. I can photograph every crevasse in the deep blue ice of this amazing glacier. 

Our young pilot takes us across the top of Mt. Haast (3114m), past Pioneer Pass and across the next deep valley filled with the longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier (28km). We are so lucky with the weather! 

Allie with the captain
..and Phil
The pilot suddenly brings the aircraft into landing on a tight piece of snow on a mountaintop at about 2500m above sea level. 

The view is breathtaking! Within 100km only snow mountains and deep valleys. It feels so warm up here that I don’t feel a bit cold in my T-shirt. 

On our way back we pass the summit of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman (3497m) before cruising down the glacier valley back to the base. What a fantastic experience. And I didn’t feel the slightest sickness whilst flying – maybe I should also get my helicopter licence! A walk up to the rim of the glacier finishes off our ‘icy’ experience. 

At the rim of the Glacier

Then it’s a long drive through wild and uninhibited countryside before we stop at Lake Moeraki, where I dare a quick and freezing swim whilst Phil stays safely in the car. We both feel very tired, me mainly because of all the sitting and driving. A stop at the long and completely wild Haast beach gives me the chance for a walk and Phil the opportunity for a 30min sizz.

the cold lake Moeraki
The next 140 kilometres are along the vast Haast river and up the Tioripatea pass before we reach the 40 km long and 5km broad Lake Wanaka. Stunning scenery which can’t be compared to anything that I have ever seen. This time not even to Scotland, since the surrounding mountains are much more steep and rugged.

At 5pm we finally reach Wanaka and find ourselves a home for the night at the ‘Aspiring Lodge Motel’ (frankly I wonder to what the hotel wants to aspire to, or it definitely needs a lot of aspiring cause it didn’t look very inspiring from the outside). The town itself is also not very inspiring. The houses all look very boring and the few restaurants and bars are just the same. Anyway we eat at the “Ale House” and drink ‘Mt. Difficulty roaring Meg’ wine!    

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