Sunday, 9th December – Franz Josef Glacier

Absolutely. F**king. Awesome.

What a morning! I got up relatively early and had some breakfast, noting with approval that the weather looked pretty good for the heli hike. Then set off to the check-in point, only to be told that all the flights were on hold as clouds were moving in, which meant the choppers couldn’t fly. More than somewhat depressing, and it meant that all I could do was hang around until a decision was made whether (or should that be weather?) or not to go ahead.

Finally, about 20 minutes later, we were motioned forward, thankfully, and issued with a black wristband. Used that to scan myself in on a laptop and then answer a few online questions confirming that I accepted the risks involved. Bit more hanging around, then all of us black-wristbanded brethren were summoned by Lawrence, who was to be our leader for the expedition. Scanned in again and weighed for the helicopter seating arrangements.

Lawrence then explained that there was a possibility that we might have to shorten the trip if the weather got worse, in which case we’d get a partial refund. He even painted the possibility of staying up on the mountain overnight if things got really bad in a short space of time…..

Through, then, to the boot room, where we got provided with boots, socks, overtrousers, a windproof jacket and a red shoulder bag containing crampons, a beanie hat and mittens. These guys know their stuff, but I already had three upper body layers on, so I got pretty warm pretty quickly. Here is the finished result at ground level:

Off we trooped to the helipad. Half of us went up with one chopper, and I was in the second group (6 of us). Didn’t get a front seat, unfortunately, as that honour went to two ladies who can’t have weighed more than 8 stone each wringing wet. The remaining 4 of us sat in the back, so views were restricted somewhat.

This was the first view of the glacier from the chopper:

The pilot, who looked a lot like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, landed the craft on a sixpence and left us to the tender mercies of Lawrence, who’d flown up earlier. He issued us with a pole each and then showed us how to put on our crampons. This proved to be a helluva lot more difficult than it should have been, but finally we were all ready to go. I’m having to be very selective with my photos, but stunning scenery right at the start:

The next three hours were awe-inspiring throughout and VERY strenuous at times. Lots of tricky terrain, high ice-steps, narrow crevasses, ascending and descending. I was much the oldest – in fact, it seemed that the whole gathering, apart from an American couple in their late 40s, were younger than our daughters. Still, we were assessed as a high ability group, so we ascended further up the glacier than others. Felt quite chuffed with that!

It was quite warm and sunny up on the glacier, so the beanie hat and mittens were not needed, but the sunglasses were essential.

Just a selection of the myriad pictures I took:

To be actually walking in amongst a live glacier – it can move anything between 1 and 5 metres a day – was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

When we all landed – quite timely as it happened as the clouds were moving in – everybody was pretty quiet (yes, even the Americans). A stupendous morning. Literally indescribable.

Back to reality and the boot room. Divested ourselves of the clobber we’d been lent, but we were allowed to keep the beanie hat. Nice!

A huge anti-climax walking back to the hotel room after that.

Jean, meanwhile, had done the washing and then visited the Wildlife Centre literally across the road from the hotel. This all went well, particularly as she went round a second time and resultantly got privileged access to some kiwi stuff – this is a conservation facility for the rarer forms of this very unusual bird.

Taken in infra-red light as they are nocturnal. This was a 6-day old chick – they grow enormously fast!

A fabulous morning for both of us.

To follow that, we decided to drive to a point where we could take a walk to see the Franz Josef Glacier in a more normal context (named after the Austro-Hungarian Emperor of the same name by a mid-19th century explorer called Haast). My knees were feeling the effects of this morning’s efforts, but off we set on a longish walk towards the glacier itself. Again, a selection of the pictures from this jaunt follows:

Then back to the hotel for a meal (OK), packing and bed. Should sleep well tonight…..

Queenstown tomorrow, where we are staying for 4 whole nights. Bliss. This has been talked up more than somewhat, so it had better be good….

It’s only a short drive in mileage terms, but it is very mountainous and twisty, so will take around 4 hours. It is apparently a spectacular drive, though.

One response to “Sunday, 9th December – Franz Josef Glacier”

  1. Some facts on Kiwis, before I forget:5 different species, Great Spotted, Little Spotted, North Island Brown, Rowi and Tokoeka. The centre had Rowis, the rarest and most in danger of extinction. Only 400 left in the wild.They are nocturnal, flightless bird only found in NZ. Part of the Ratite family related to Emu, Ostrich and Moa.Ground dwelling but have tiny wings. Marrow filled bones (flying birds have air filled bones). Body temp 37 degrees C. Strong sense of smell. Nostrils are at the tip of its bill. Also have sensory pits there so they can find bugs moving in the soil. Can live up to 70 years.Monogamous, breed at about 4 years old. Lay 1 to 4 eggs a year and male does most of the incubation. Eggs are huge about 20% of female body weight. Each egg 250-500g. Incubated for about 80 days. Young can be independent at 2 weeks old.Kiwis in photos are 6 days old. 2 older Kiwis, Hoojar and Side Salad, were in the main dark house, but strictly no photos allowed. They were fun and playful!They are in danger mainly because of introduced predators, namely stoats, (introduced by early European settlers to kill rabbits), domestic cats and dogs, possums and rats. The centre takes eggs from the wild, incubates and rears them until they are at a safe weight of 1 kg then gradually reintroduce them into the wild. Good luck with that. A very interesting and informative visit.

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