We are now approaching the final leg of our NZ adventure... and what an adventure it has been.
Now, the highlight of the trip for me personally was our pre-planned helicopter flight over the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
This meant us having to drive several hours out of the way, and required us to give up the Southeastern part of South Island, replacing it instead with the rugged West Coast of New Zealand. Dany and I had driven along the West Coast 15 years prior, so we had seen most of the highlights of that area (we thought), as well as Arthur's Pass - the drive across the belly of South Island from West Coast to Christchurch. However, the fact that we'd get to see the fast retreating glaciers up close, and spend even just 3 minutes up in those alpine mountains felt well worth the time, money and effort.
And the glaciers didn't disappoint.
After we left Queenstown, Dany drove Swiftly up north toward Haast Pass, where Glacier Country begins. A much greener, lusher landscape than we had expected, the drive was pleasant and relaxing (Dany will probably disagree as he did all the driving).
It drizzled slightly, which made it a bit worrisome, but the rains made the drive cooler and a little mysterious as well.
Maybe a little too mysterious...we stopped for a night at Boundary Creek DOC Campsite, a small, lonely campsite beside a howling, growling shore, which was the northern tip of Lake Wanaka. A far cry from the welcoming Wanaka shore we had stayed next to a few days before, this part of Wanaka was fierce, grey and a little scary to be honest. It was also practically deserted - there was one other campervan tucked under a bunch of trees, but no human in sight...!
To excerbate its scariness, Dany started a ghost story contest that evening, whereby each of us had to create our own ghost story, involving the campervan, which eventually freaked us all out. We ended up squeezing more of us on to the middle bed to keep each other "safe". :) Meanwhile, the branches gently scratching at the roof of the campervan was NOT helping at all!
The next day, we woke up to a wet campervan park, drenched from rain during the night and set off through Fantail Falls, towards Bruce Bay, where flat white stones are picked up, inscribed and left along the beach. The kids enjoyed running along the windy west coast beach - a very different landscape from what we had seen in the rest of New Zealand.
By the time we reached the Fox Glacier township, the drizzle had stopped, and we were greeted upon check in to Top 10 Fox Glacier Campervan Park with a beautiful rainbow.
The kids were enamoured with the trampoline while Dany and I unpacked the camper and started dinner in the Kitchen.
We took a hike along the trail to the terminal point of Fox Glacier, a relatively short walk through river banks and a rather steep hill. The problem with this hill was that the signs kept telling us NOT to stop (danger of falling rocks overhead) which made the steepness even more difficult to bear. It's one thing to climb when you can stop anytime you want; and quite another to have to keep pushing yourself upwards and forwards!
Just like at Mount Cook/Aoraki, it was a bit saddening to see how the glaciers have been retreating so much over the recent hundreds of years. It was truly a blessing for us to be able to see them up close, no matter how far it was in reality. This made the highlight of this part of the trip even more exciting - the helicopter flight over the glaciers.
Fair weather for Franz Josef
One of the critical factors in making this glacier flight a possibility is the weather. If the clouds don't let up, or if it rains or hails, the flights are cancelled, and our drive would have been in vain. One of Dany's friends had told us just a week before how his flight had been a wash out, so I put all my energy into manifesting a clear blue sky for our flight!
The day before the flight, we were already in Franz Josef township and spent the afternoon at Okarito reserve, where they have kiwi tours at night - unfortunately we hadn't known about that, and so we were not able to book that. Nevertheless, we hiked along the path up to view Okarito Lagoon (a birdlife wonderland) from a vantage point, and try to catch sight of the elusive mountain peaks that liked to hide behind the clouds...
It has to be said, the weather we had been experiencing in New Zealand for the first 3 weeks had been simply magnificent. It rained when we were indoors, and shone when we were out in the mountains, beaches and valleys.
The morning of our flight, was THANKFULLY, no different. Despite the drizzly evening prior, it was a beautiful morning. Not the clearest of days, but still a welcome un-rainy sky that made the helicopter flight a distinct GO!
To be continued in Part 2!