Day 79: Franz Josef to Queenstown

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February 14th 2010
Published: February 26th 2010
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Franz Josef to Queenstown

Day 79: Sunday, February 14th, 2010
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand to Queenstown, New Zealand

Per Contiki brochure:
"Today there's the chance to explore the incredible Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers with professional guides that will be on hand to show you the beauty of the natural wonder. We'll then journey through Haast Pass to Queenstown and our lodge high above Lake Wakatipu. Hold onto your hat- Queenstown beckons!"

We woke up at 6am today with breakfast at 6:30am and we were on the road at 7am. First up- the glaciers! When signing up for the excursions, I had initially opted for the cheapest helicopter flight/glacier touchdown. Then I changed my mind and switched to the glacier hike, which would only let us wander towards the bottom but was cheaper. Then, upon hearing another girl in our group, Erin, was doing the primo helicopter hike, I said goodbye to my money and signed up for that as well. So, that's what I was going to be doing this morning. Others in the group were doing scenic flights/touch downs or the hike.

There were 6 of us that were doing this excursion: myself, Grace (Australia), Erin (England), Bryce (Australia), Andre (Brazil) and David (Australia). We were driven to the helicopter field, given big boots and socks to wear and whatever other items of clothing we thought we might need (hats, mittens, backpacks, etc.) The day before, Emmo had suggested we not wear jeans, that they soak up moisture too much, and that he suggested shorts. So, myself and two of the guys were in knee shorts. We get equipped up and hop on a helicopter and start a 7 minute journey to the middle of the Franz Josef Glacier. Along the way, the pilot does some serious banks and gives us some great views and a hell of a ride. It's my first time up in a helicopter and I loved it!!!

We land too soon and we're greeted by our tour guide, Andrew maybe? (from Australia), and a guide in training, Ben (from Chicago). First up, we get equipped with crampons which are spikes that attach to the bottom of our boots and help us to walk on the ice. I am questioning Emmo's sense of humor and wondering if he had been joking when he suggested shorts- I was friggin' cold! Andrew (I vote that's his name) then starts walking us around and explaining what all we're seeing. Go to this link for info on the Franz Josef Glacier, I don't feel like transcribing today. 😊 There are cracks/fissures everywhere, so, needless to say, you step where they step. There are many caves and, after Andrew would check to make sure they were stable, we'd crawl in and have our picture taken. Of course, my favorite picture is of myself and him where it looks like our trust worthy tour guide is about to kill me with his axe. I hadn't even made a joke yet!

It was great being up there. We could see (and hear) the other helicopters overhead who were taking the poor folks around who only signed up for a scenic flight. They'd touch down briefly, everyone would get out for a picture, then back in the copter and back to base. We explored many caves and had a nice lesson on how this glacier came to be and still is. We were up there for 2.5 hours and it flew by. As we were heading back to where the copter would pick us up, Bryce guessed wrong on a step and ended up putting his foot and calf into some ice water. Luckily it was at the end of the trip, not the beginning. And after an hour walking/hiking around, I started to warm up so that, mixed with the sun coming out from behind the mountains, thawed my legs.

We say goodbye to our guides (who will catch the next flight) and I tell Ben I'll look his Dad up in Chicago- he has a video production company in Chicago. Look at me networking on a glacier. We get back on the copter and do a more direct route to the base so we're only in the air for about 4 minutes. The ride is so smooth- there's none of that sinking stomach feeling you get when on planes- feels like you're in a realistic 3D Game machine. We disembark, give our gear back, get a certificate saying "we did it!" and head into the cafe. We're all in a daze and can't stop smiling. People ask me how it was, and I just say awesome. I try to find some pictures to show them but I'm in love with them all and can't decide. The others come back from their flights and hikes and we get on the bus and head off to Queenstown. Along the way, my stomach introduces a new fun- motion sickness. We're sitting further back in the bus and for the first 2 hours I was just drooling (charming, no?) Ate a carrot to help with the acid and then fell asleep. Feel better now, and I'm typing this blog while on the bus. Poor Alex has a headache she can't get rid of, maybe it's due to the bumpy back of the bus as well. We'll snag seats closer up next time we're on the bus- which won't be for a while because we're staying in Queenstown for 3 nights- yea! A chance to unpack, and not immediately pack again.

Along the way, we stop at Arnott Point which will be our last chance to see Australia and then we stop a little bit later to refuel/defuel. Other than that, Valentine messages were read out (anonymously) on the bus. Some of the girls got together and wrote out some funny one for the boys- that was about it.

(A few days later, now finishing this entry...) We stay at the Aspen Hotel in Queenstown and that night in (we got in around 5pm) we first take a group picture at the park (since we're all gussied up) and then we headed up to Skyline Restaurant for what Emmo called our "Valelntine's Ball". We take a gondola ride to get up there and it's quite a cool restaurant, with an amazing view of Queenstown and the mountains (the main mountains being The Remarkables... yup, that's their actual name.) Dinner is a massive buffet and it was all very yummy. After dinner, we all take the gondola back down into town and some head to bars, and others (moi included) head back to the hotel for the night. I don't have anything until my Scenic Tour tomorrow at 1:30 pm (feels like I'm talking about school) so I'm looking forward to sleeping in and doing nothing for the morning. Alex, Tara and Jen have to leave the hotel at 7:30 am for their skydiving excursion- fun!

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3rd March 2010

You died on the frozen tundra of NZ?
Ice ice baby.

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