New Zealand Travelogue – Monday, 19th October 2015

Note, 22nd November 2015: These events took place a little over a month ago. Yesterday there was a tragic helicopter crash on Fox glacier. Our hearts go out to all those involved.

Sunday, 18th October 2015

Soundtrack: *sniffs*

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Distance: 2.4 km
  • Calories: 718
  • Steps: 5,101

So, today we left the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur’s Pass. It genuinely is the loveliest place we’ve ever stayed.

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Leaving the Wilderness Lodge. *sniffs*

 

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The sign has changed in the last 10 years…

On the other hand, today we’re going to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki, so that shouldn’t be too bad! We’ve never been to Lake Moeraki before so I’m not too sure what to expect. All I really know about it is that Gerry and Anne run it and that sand flies can be a problem.

So the plan is to continue the TranzAlpine from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth, pick up a hire car in Greymouth, and drive down to Lake Moeraki. It looks like a long drive, and the weather is still a bit grey.

 

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A last look at the wonderful scenery from the Waimakariri river

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Michael from the lodge, leaving us at the train station. He had to walk back through sleet.

The scenery on the train to Greymouth wasn’t as stunning as the scenery on the way to Arthur’s Pass, so I didn’t take many snaps. We did go through an 8 kilometre long tunnel which was a bit weird. Tunnels don’t photograph well so again no snaps.

We picked up the hire car we’d booked from Thrifty. They have a place right at the train station (so do most other car hire places in Greymouth) so it was quite convenient. And we were the first in the queue to get our car. This didn’t seem like a big deal – we didn’t run to the desk or anything – but by the time we’d finished signing for the car the line behind us was pretty big. Glad we got there first and it was so straightforward. The car is a wee Toyota Yaris automatic. It took a bit of getting used to – it’s been a few years since either of us drove an automatic.

Then we picked up some snacks and some anti-histamines (I kept hearing about sand flies) and headed south.

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Unpleasant but visually stunning weather for our driving

We stopped off at Hokitika because it has a reputation for greenstone and SWMBO wanted to go to a particular shop there. (She bought a very nice necklace that I don’t have a picture of yet.) Then we continued south. I can’t remember where we stopped for lunch (Ross, maybe?) All I remember about the place was the sign that said ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’ by the door. I hoped we’d managed to leave things like that behind… Seems we can’t get away from it even on the far side of the world.

Then we drove some more. It was a long enough drive from Greymouth to Lake Moerake. We did drive through Fox and Franz Josef, and stopped to pick up some information about the glaciers.

Finally we arrived.

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Feetstagram, from our room at Lake Moeraki

Gerry was the same bundle of enthusiasm we’d met 10 years ago at Arthur’s Pass. We hadn’t met Anne before, but she’s lovely. This lodge also has an incredible setting – more west-coast rainforest than southern alps mountains, but stunning nonetheless.

Had a lovely dinner (the food here is every bit as good as at Arthur’s Pass) and then we headed out to see some glow-worms! We’d wondered about heading to one of the special places known for glow-worms when we were planning our trip here, but it didn’t make the final cut. We were surprised when Gerry said they had a colony of them so close to the lodge. I thought they were rare things – and maybe they are, but there they were, in the trees near the lodge.

Seeing them in the trees at night is very pretty, but I failed to capture the scene on my wee phone camera. They’re not really very pretty up close though!

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This strip of dangly lines with globules is what a glow-worm actually looks like. Not so pretty now…

I asked about the glaciers, and maybe doing a heli-hike. It feels wrong to be coming to Lake Moeraki and not spending all day doing the Lake Moeraki activities, but we missed out on visiting a glacier last time we were in New Zealand so I didn’t want us to miss out a second time if we could avoid it. Trips are very weather dependent, and we were only going to be in Lake Moeraki for 2 days (3 nights) so I wanted to maximise our chances of seeing a glacier. Anne said she’d see what she could do and we should check with her around 9am.

Monday, 19th October 2015

Soundtrack: Ice, Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 2 hours 59 minutes
  • Distance: 6.4 km
  • Calories: 1,579
  • Steps: 11,624

Tsk. Google Fit wouldn’t even round that up and give us credit for 3 hours activity.

Sophie was in charge of breakfast this morning. Sophie and Aaron were a couple we met at Arthur’s Pass – they were stopping off at that Wilderness Lodge to see the place before heading to Lake Moeraki to start work at this Wilderness Lodge. They’re lovely.

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Aaron and Sophie on the sheep activity at Arthur’s Pass

We had our breakfast and as we were finishing (around 8:30am) Anne came to find us. She said she’d phoned the people she would recommend and there were spaces available on the heli-hike today, weather permitting. They hadn’t been running the helicopters yesterday so it seemed a good idea to take the opportunity when it was presented. We phoned the company and gave credit card details to book our places. I was really grateful Anne made this so easy – it would have taken me a long time to find out who had good tours and a good reputation.

We were on the 11:50am heli-hike but the Fox glacier was a bit of a drive away so we headed out in plenty of time. We checked in, then we sat around in a Fox coffee shop, waiting… We didn’t want to go too far from the meeting spot, and there wasn’t much else to do.

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Me, happy we’ve actually got tickets to go up a glacier!

We waited at 11:50am to hear if the heli-hike was still on. It’s very weather-dependent which means it can be called off at very short notice if the weather changes for the worse, and the weather that week had been changeable. There would be several further go/no-go checkpoints, but we got the go-ahead to proceed. Next step was getting kitted up, part 1. We were pretty well prepared – lots of layers, waterproof coat, gloves, walking trousers, hats and so on, so we didn’t need anything at this point. Then it was a bus trip to the helicopter pads and getting kitted up part 2. We had good stout walking boots, but they made us change to their boots because they knew they fitted the crampons. I’m pretty sure ours would have been fine but we changed them anyway just to be sure.

Then we were weighted in groups, with our backpacks, to make sure there were no weight issues with the helicopter.

Finally we waited for the next go/no-go to board the helicopter.

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Ready and waiting

We boarded the helicopter and got the final go-ahead, and took off! As I mentioned a while ago, New Zealand certainly does provide plenty of opportunities for confronting fears.

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My view from the back seat of the helicopter

After a very, very short helicopter ride, we were on Fox glacier!

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‘Oh, just a waterfall in the distance.’ Another spectacular view.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from being up a glacier. OK, I expected it to be cold and icy, but beyond that I wasn’t sure if it would be a tourist thing like the moving walkways past the Crown Jewels (I hoped not), or a hardcore ‘Here’s your ice pick, head six miles that direction and we’ll see you in two hours’ (again, I hoped not). Turns out it was nicely balanced in the middle.

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You can see the glacier is really just a big river of ice

The final part of kitting out was getting our crampons attached. These were some Serious Crampons – I’d expected spikey but the spikes on these stuck out quite a lot. My trousers suffered some war wounds from these crampons, in the line of duty. It would have been horrible without them though – they were very useful. I still sometimes got unbalanced, but it was because my feet stuck unexpectedly rather than slipping.

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SWMBO The Explorer

I was genuinely surprised at the number of people wearing jeans though. Jeans are terrible for walking in bad weather – they really hold the water, they take a very long time to dry, and while they’re wet they chafe away at your skin. The guiding company says pretty clearly on all its literature not to wear jeans. Nonetheless, over half of the people on the heli-hike wore jeans… Takes all sorts, I suppose.

You know that bit in The Simpsons, where Homer points at a stupid warning label on something and says with pride ‘That’s there because of me…’? Well, that comes to mind whenever I hear some warnings these days, like today’s ‘Do Not Use Selfie Sticks When Getting Out Of The Helicopter’. You have to wonder who thought (or didn’t think) shoving a selfie stick up near the rotors was a good idea. When I asked the guide about it he just shook his head wearily and muttered about the daftness he’d seen.

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SWMBO explores a crevasse in the ice

The guides took us to different bits of the glacier, just to show us the different areas. I was very impressed by the guides – they were knowledgeable and friendly, but they were really there for safety and they took that very seriously. The whole operation felt very safe to me. Just to be careful I’d taken note of where the emergency equipment stash (tents, cookers, rations and so on) was buried.

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We both had big grins on our faces all the time

The variety of colours was just amazing. The ice in the caves genuinely was blue in parts!

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It’s pretty clear I don’t know what to do with my pole in the photo

I mean, just look at the colours and textures in this crevasse:

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All the blues and greens of the oceans…

 

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SWMBO exploring a natural ice tunnel

There were lots of interesting experiences on the glacier, but here’s one of my favourite bits. There was a natural ice tunnel that had been vetted and secured, and we could go through. We had to go up a bit of an ice wall, and then lean over and move along a slanted crevasse. I knew it was quite safe but it still felt a little claustrophobic. And it was surprisingly hard work! Some folks declined to do it, which is understandable, but we did it!

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SWMBO after defeating the ice tunnel

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The ice tunnel from a little further away

Every so often there was another unexpected site.

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A tremendously blue pool, sitting among scarred ice

New Zealand really is ridiculously photogenic, so we chose to capitalise on this by inserting ourselves in a picture of the pool and the waterfall.

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Us, surrounded by natural beauty

After a couple of hours on the ice, we headed back to the landing zone. Up until now I hadn’t realised it was a landing zone, but I can’t think of a better term for it. It’s not a helipad, landing strip or airport, just the place where the helicopters were landing that day.

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Our party heads back to the landing zone

Then we waited at the landing zone for a while for the weather to clear up – there were some squalls that they weren’t comfortable flying through, but after a matter of minutes they were gone and the helicopters brought us away from the cold of the glacier.

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The glacier ice flows from the valley on the left to the valley on the right

I thought the whole thing was an incredible experience. I was (and still am) conflicted about the notion of putting tourists on the glacier, and especially doing it by helicopter. Is it damaging? Would it be better to keep everyone off it? I still don’t know, but I did enjoy the day.

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All the New Zealand Travelogue entries

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