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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: -43.3891, 170.182Concerned that I am not as enthused as I need to be wrt the stunning landscapes that NZ offers up, DH takes back the pen.
Early the next day, and a big left-side drive day for Vic. We are very appreciative of the nice weather that is back with us. I love the mornings here particularly. The sun coming up over the mountains onto the fields of cows and sheep, and the sparkling coastal glimpses. To me its " God, it's great to be alive" scenery. Maybe I am a little homesick for Canada but geographically, this is the second most beautiful country I have seen and it reminds me a lot of home.
First stop on the journey today is the longest swing bridge in New Zealand. At over 100 metres in length near the town of Murchison it spans the dramatic Buller Gorge and either we've put on a lot of weight or this bridge is designed to dance as you cross over it. A zip-line takes you back the other way and that actually appears to be less adventurous approach to crossing the gorge. Down below we watched one of those jet boats whipsaw and spin all along
the river (I'm thinking that Indy E might have a career option down here driving one of these things- they're loud, obnoxious, and go very fast with little regard for the human cargo). The area itself has witnessed some exciting events. A brief gold rush and multiple earthquakes have shaped the landscape all around the gorge.
Our second stop was another of the many 'must-sees' in NZ: the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes of Punakaiki. Very cool stop along the coastal highway. 'They' still don't really know how these rock formations were created but the natural rock sculptures are fascinating. The water and waves from the Tasman Sea thundered all around these rock guardians and you could feel it in your bones- the awesome power of mother nature.Nature began this work of art about 30 million years ago and over thousands of years, alternating layers of small marine creatures and sand became buried and compressed on the ocean floor.The outcome is cliffs and ravines with hundreds of horizontal slices along their vertical faces, like huge stacks of pancakes, hence the name.
We were ultimately heading to the area of the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier only to find out that the
one we were hoping to hike, FJG, had developed a huge hole at the front of it and all climbs starting at the nose of the glacier had been suspended until it was safer. However.....they still offered their "Heli Hike" but at a discounted rate (so they said) which would fly you over the damaged area to start the hike. The price tag is a little daunting but I really like the idea of a helicopter ride and glacier hike so I tell Vic that it's his decision but I put on that look that I save for occasions like this and before you know it, he's peeling off fifties and we're going heli-hiking. Score!
We are outfitted with hats, mitts, jackets, fanny pack, boots, crampons, as well as extra pants which we all took except for "legs" Pollen who wanted to hike an ice glacier in his shorts (and at times he seems very normal?). There is 11 in our group as well as Ben our guide (who in an earlier career hung upside down from a helicopter and picked a special type of moss- I really can't make stuff like that up!). We all sign waivers, weigh in
for seat assignments in the helicopter, and then it's off we go. It was an awesome helicopter flight as this glacier is wedged in between the Tasman Sea and the imposing Southern Alps. We land on the glacier and after disembarking the chopper, we immediately put on the crampons. Very effective on the ice but it did take a while to get used to walking like Frankenstein. The temperature was very comfortable and we walked among the ice caves and valleys although Ben 'The Very Thin Moss Picker' did take us through some very narrow ice passageways (and the strangest thing happened- the entire group fell in behind Vic and waited to see if he could squirt through some of those openings before trying it themselves- can't imagine why I/they did that?).
The pristine alpine environment, and extraordinary colours of the ice flow made for a great day.I really enjoyed it and, although I have seen three other glaciers, this is the first one I hiked. It was only my second helicopter flight and I loved it! Vic, apparently, lived in helicopters when he worked out west and has hiked glaciers before so he wasn't over the moon about this
adventure but I know he got some great photos (and he didn't get permanently stuck in any of the ice).
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