Saturday, December 17, 2011


On our third day we drove south along State Highway 6 to Franz Josef. We had wanted to do a few walks up to lookouts in Greymouth before we left, but with the low-hanging clouds and continuing drizzle we decided there wasn’t much point. We also stopped briefly at Shantytown, just south of Greymouth, to check out the tourist attraction there, but again decided against spending $30 each to wander around in the drizzle.

We stopped for lunch at Hokitika. We checked out the Jade Factory as well as the views from the lookout at Sunset Point, at the head of the river. The weather was starting to clear by this point. Unfortunately the Jade Factory no longer runs the make-your-own jewellery carving course, so Laetitia had to cross that off her wish-list. We took a short walk through a patch of regrowth forest called Bushman’s Rest, then had a picnic lunch.

The drive down the coast included more and more steep inclines - up one mountain, down the other side, a one-lane bridge over a river, then up the next mountain.

When we got to Franz Josef we checked in to the Top 10 Holiday Park, which was excellent, and, with the weather continuing to clear and a sunny forecast ahead, we booked ourselves in for a heli-hike onto Fox Glacier the next morning. For dinner we had a stir fry cooked by ourselves in the kitchen next door to our room. What a pleasure to have a “home”-cooked meal!

The next morning dawned beautiful and sunny, with patches of drifting fog obscuring and then revealing different parts of the rugged mountain peaks. We headed off to Fox township and checked in for our helicopter ride. It was amazing! They flew us right up close to the walls of the valley and did some tight swooping curves over the glacier. We got to see right down a deep, deep hole into a waterfall down under the glacier! Then we landed on the ice. They gave us crampons to attach to our boots and a walking pole, and we set off up the glacier. Spectacular! It was a bit tricky to begin with, but after a while we got used to how to step to keep the crampons spiked firmly into the ice.

We saw ice caves, crevasses, a small lake atop the ice. (Yes, the water was cold!) The top surface is white where the sun has warmed it and the structure is disturbed, scattering the light, but the solid ice underneath is quite blue.

After a few hours the helicopter came back to pick us up and we returned to the township below. We had lunch there at the Cook’s Saddle (delicious, not too expensive, friendly service: definitely recommended!) before driving on southwards along the coast.

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