This first picture was taken inside a small, naturally formed ice cave on Franz Josef glacier on South Island. More about that in a minute.
On this particular day we had scheduled a ‘glacier hike’ in the morning along with some sight seeing in the area. Getting up on the glacier would require a short, but spectacular helicopter flight. Needless to say, my family and I were very excited by the prospect of all this.
Unfortunately the day dawned a bit grey and overcast. It went through alternate periods of sunshine and clouds and was a bit worrisome from a glacier hike perspective. In fact, the weather up on the glacier was such that our original hike time was delayed – by two hours- in order to give the weather time to clear. Evidently the helicopter pilots actually need to be able to SEE or something.
During our wait, we had a good brunch and got to experience that delicious “will we or won’t we” sensation. After our flight delay, we made it back to the helipad and YES- we were a go!
The helicopter flight was awesomely smooth and beautiful. Very much unlike other flying- because you don’t get that acceleration feeling. Its more floating. From above, the glacier looks like the skin of an elephant, all wrinkley and greyish.
We landed on the glacier, strapped on our crampons, grabbed our ice picks, and started the hike. Praise God/Buddha/Allah that we got the hot glacier guide named Kev. Kev sounds particularly nice when pronounced with a Kiwi accent (sort of more of a long eee sound).
I got along famously with a young couple from London. We joked and laughed about an evil young boy who was turning into a real discipline problem for our guide.
Anyway, the hike was incredible. Towers and canyons of ice, pools of frigid, aquamarine colored water, steeps to climb, breathtaking vistas, views of the whole glacier field, etc. It was amazing. And our guide was not only hot (and in shorts!) but very well informed with tons of glacial knowledge to impart.
Along the hike our guide found a small ice cave for us to explore. The opening was small, maybe 2.5 feet tall and 3 feet across. And the cave was really only big enough for one or two people at a given time. So we all took turns going in if we wanted. After wedging my 200 pound frame through that tiny opening, the cave balooned up to perhaps 6 feet in height. The light was eerie and absolutely beautiful. The picture above does not quite do it justice. It was like being underwater, but with better color variation and the ability to breathe without gills.
I could go on and on about the glacier hike, but it would get a bit redundant. We left Franz-Josef feeling very lucky and sated. But the day was not finished.
I got the opportunity to drive our camper van on a short journey from the glacier to the coastal town of Greymouth. This was the only time on our trip that my father actually relinquished the driving duties to me. Not only was it was very odd driving on the other side of the road, but I was driving on some narrow-assed two lane highways. And our campervan was big. Think small winnebago that can sleep six.
Some roads actually turned into single lanes when there was a bridge. It turns into this whole etiquette thing of who gets to cross first when two cars are on opposite sides. One of the bridges was wooden and also doubled as a train tressle. Guess who was having severe ‘stand by me’ flashbacks while driving THAT portion?
But we evenually rolled into Greymouth and found our ‘holiday camp’– campground at the beach. Greymouth sits on the left coast of the South Island and is washed gently by the Tasman Sea. Our camper spot was adjacent to a trail that led over a short area of dunes and to the beach.
After getting everything all parked and situated and comfy, the family and I grabbed some beers and headed out to the beach for the sunset. We cracked open our beers, toasted the day, kicked off our sandals, and waded out into the Tasman Sea. A picture of the beach appears here:
What a day. I had taken my first ever helicopter flight. Over a glacier in New Zealand no less! I had hiked on a glacier and explored an ice cave. I had safely driven a behemoth vehicle on the wrong side of the road. And I had waded out into the surf of the very southernmost Pacific.
That night as I listened to the waves crash against the shore while curled up on my camper bed, I closed my eyes and repeated a short mantra: remember this day, remember this day, remember this day….