Having some travel arrangement difficulties, we got a spot on the early helicopter ride to the glacier. I relied on a travel agent with this trip, my first and only time. She scheduled our flight home and helicopter ride at the same time. The helicopter people were amazing and fit us in during their only open slot. The only problem was that we had a five hour drive to get there, so at the early morning hour of one a.m. we set off to Franz Joseph. The night before we stocked up on a one liter coke and cookies for our early morning snack along the drive. We made the turn out of Queenstown down what we thought would be a somewhat straight shot to our destination.
After the first ten curves we realized it was not such a straight shot, but we persevered along the dark and windy road not too sure of the sites beyond the reach of the headlights. The moon however acted as a nightlight shinning on the side of the mountains and gleaming off the lakes as we passed. It was like Gods way of showing us the way when we were unsure what was off the edge of the cliffs we went around. Half way into our trip I nodded off as Josh continued to drive, while blaring the music on our phones through the car speakers. There were a series of one lane bridges that we could only imagine what was on the outer rails. From time to time I would awake to see bunnies running about and it made me smile as it was Easter morning and it looked like they were running around hiding the Easter eggs. We passed outlook signs, park entrances, waterfall signs, and more what seemed like interesting sites but no way would we have been able to enjoy them in the night. At one point I awoke and pointed to a snow topped mountain that was glimmering in the night acting like a lighthouse guiding us to the town.
The sun started to lighten the dark night sky as we pulled into town and quickly we found a spot for breakfast because we were both starving. After finishing we soon realized this was not a smart move because we were now full and our bodies were saying nap time. Knowing we had no time to waste, off to adventure we went with excitement flowing through us. The lady at the counter gave us a form to sign our life away and pointed us toward the boot room to collect our gear. Boots, spikes, rain gear, gloves, socks, and a beanie collected we took off toward the helicopter pad. Standing on the pad and from our sites around town, the glacier seemed no bigger than a frozen over ice cap that could hardly park the helicopter on. But as we loaded the helicopter and winded our way up the mountain, the small ice cap became this oversized sheet of ice that seemed wedged between the two mountain peeks. We landed on the helicopter pad at the mid base of the glacier and were escorted quickly over to the meeting station to strap on our spikes. One lady in our tour groups piped up and said she thought it was a quick land on and small walk around. After the guide informed her it would be a three hour hike, you could see she was going to need help getting around the ice.
We started the hike at the back of the pack to allow us time to enjoy each other and to not be pushed along amongst the masses. The tour guide was not as informative as Yoshi, but she was just as entertaining. We started our hike up a set of carved our stairs and over these massive blocks of ice. The crevices at times were large enough to fit a horse into and small enough that the melting water could easily disappear to not be seen till out the bottom. Up and down we went and at times our eyes were drawn to the avalanches of melting ice blocks thundering in the middle of the glacier. Looking up at times to enjoy the view and sights, we would pause a bit to think of those whom first discovered this and the first to see it up close. From time to time our group would pause for pictures with us still acting up at the back like kids on a snow day. The most fascinating parts was the crevices and how blue the ice became the deeper it got, and the pools of glacier water that was awaiting its turn to head down the river and into the sea after being deposited years ago possibly during the last ice age.
The sun started to hide behind the low laying clouds and the temperature starts to cool off a bit. Our guide pointed us back to the helicopter as we had been impressed by this marvel of a mass that seemed so small from far away, but so large after covering only less than a quarter of it in three hours. Again as the helicopter arrived and the guide pointed us to our seats, the ride down made you feel so small in such a beautiful place.
As we landed into the base, we off loaded and headed to the changing room to kick off the gear to find something to eat. Not having to walk far, we saw a restaurant that seemed like Chinese food, but after reading the menu that was partly true as they also served Indian, Thai, Chinese, and a few others. We had the Thai curry with the sample platter of spring roles, wantons, and chicken wings. All in all it was not a bad meal by any means.
Sagging rear ended and droopy eyes by this point we were off to the hotel and a quick nap, which may have last longer than a quick nap should have lasted, five hours, oops.
Rested and ready we went off to explore the town but found little to do, so we found what looked like the nicest restaurant in town called The Landing. Again another awesome meal as I had the Kiwi version of fish and chips and Josh had the lamb shanks with veggies. The night was young but with little to do, but after the long drive in and not much to do we turned in for the night.