Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday 10th heli-hike a glacier

(Pics to follow) for now check out 07APR08, 09APR08, and 10APR08 pictures. Still haven't even touched the pics Austin took ;-0

Foo foo coffee for breakfast and we're off! The "helihike" didn't start until 10AM, but our short flight would put us well above the full day hike on the Franz Joseph Glacier. The tour was amazing! We flew close to the mountains, over a waterfall and circled the snow basin from above. This is one of three major tropical glaciers residing at sea level in the world - another in New Zealand and the third in Chile. The strange thing was how warm it was outside. More snow falls in the basin than melts, which compresses the ice below, forcing slow movement and an enormous glacier that's thaw resilient.

Wandering the glacier felt like a giant playground. The boots and ice spikes provided were incredible. Provided that you remember to keep your knees bent and ALWAYS point your toes forward, you could traverse almost anything - up or down! The guide would carve steps in the ice at difficult spots for the senior members of our group. I made my own steeper detours and Austin was usually nowhere to be found. Admittedly, it was intimidating to go down the steeper sections, but they would make it harder on themselves by sidestepping.

The other half of the day was spent on the road. We cut westward then drove up the coast. It surprised me how varied the terrain was over so short a distance. We'd stop at woodland forrest areas with blue waters and rinky bridges, jungles right out of Jurassic Park with glacier views, and beautiful lakes and ocean beaches.

The roads in the South Island are windy, single lane highways that often carve steep paths through the mountains. Bridges that share a single lane for both directions aren't uncommon. I felt like a wannabe rally car driver - not exactly drifting, but enjoying speed through the windies. Our trusty rental manual transmission Corolla, Ada, taught me a thing or two. Austin had never driven stick before, nor had he much experience in those conditions. After a little practice and instruction he wasn't freaking me out nearly so often!

We stayed at a cheap backpackers lodge that, despite the fancy French name, felt like a haunted house and reminded me of the Jail House.

Back on the road Thursday morning toward the Wellington Ferry. We managed to move our booking forward from 10PM to 2. This leg of the trip was mostly grassland surrounded by mountains, highlighted by trees changing colors to oranges and yellows. We also drove through another famous wine country and lots of livestock: Deer, cows, and above all, sheep.

Now I'm borrowing power for my laptop from the Ferry. Listening to my ipod in a lounge seat that's perched right in front of a center window above the bow - best in the house as far as I'm concerned.

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