Fox & Franz Joseph Glaciers to Otira - Day 271
Trip Start Jan 31, 2008
254Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
In my car somewhere
Wow!! I now have a helicopter addiction!! What an awesome place for my first flight. The helicopter was a Hughes 500, I shared the flight with a chopper geek who said it's the Ferrari of the chopper world. Certainly a slick looking machine! The chopper was started and ready to go when the car dropped me in some random farmers field just a few minutes from town. I ran to the chopper with my head down just like in the movies, put my seat belt and headphones on and we we were off. After 5 minutes in the air we returned back to the field to pick up another 2 people who had arrived late. I thought sweet, I've just had a free 5 minutes in the air! I sat in the front next to the pilot with the controls right in front of me, what a cool machine. We took off for a second time and headed up the Fox glacier. I could see the deep crevasses from high above this river of ice. The dirty grey glacier I saw this morning at ground level had turned into a brilliant white and blue landscape as we flew higher towards the source. As we flew over a saddle we followed a high mountain ridge, we were only flying a couple of hundred feet from the pointy black rock. Then the ridge disappeared and a massive u-shaped valley lay beneath, which contained the huge Tasman glacier. Thousands of feet of open air appeared in a few seconds after leaving the ridge. This had to be my favourite moment of the entire flight. We then approached the Murchison glacier and landed on the ice and snow on a small plateau at over 7000 feet. We had perfect views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, the biggest peaks in New Zealand. Completely awesome! Had 10 minutes to enjoy the views from the glacier before heading back to town after a flyby of Mount Cook. I sat in the back of the chopper on the return which was nowhere near as exciting, but a took some good shots without the glare of the curved glass in the front. In many ways I enjoyed this indulgence more than my sky dive. The mountain scenery here is some of the best I've every seen, it's not massive like the Himalayas but equally as beautiful.
Next I drove to Franz Joseph Glacier. I was surprised to discover the glacier is actually advancing. In the
70's the ice could hardly be seen from the current lookouts along the
trail. Global warming doesn't appear to be affecting Franz Joseph.Walked up to the terminal wall which is around a 3km hike from the car park. Along the trail I stopped first at Sentinel Rock which offers great views of the glacier from an elevated position. This massive rock was once covered by the glacier and now sits a couple of kilometres from the terminal wall. As I approached the glacier there were warning signs everywhere saying don't go any further due to the unstable ice so I obviously carried on past the signs. Bits of glacier occasionally fall off and hit unwary tourists so I had to be alert. Up close, the glacier is an intimating beast, water pours from the bowels of the dirty ice with rocks and ice moving under the stresses and strains.
After leaving Franz I drove north along the coast to Hokitika before heading inland onto the Arthur's Pass road which connects the west coast to the east coast bypassing the high southern Alps. I've parked up tonight near the start of the Otira Gorge at 450 metres above sea level. The road eventually climbs to just short of 1000 metres where the highest settlement in New Zealand is located. Apparently some great 360 degree views of the southern Alps from the settlement and surrounding walking tracks. Will hopefully see for myself in the morning if the weather continues to be fine and clear. I'm not expecting the weather to hold though, remember I'm in soggy New Zealand, could snow tomorrow, who knows.