Tag Archive | Fox Glacier

The 10 Best Things About New Zealand

Our holiday in New Zealand was wonderful and we enjoyed every day. There were some experiences, however, which were special and made our trip even more memorable. Here, in no particular order, are my 10 best things about New Zealand.

1. Best Meal  We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at Fox Glacier and asked the locals for a dinner recommendation. They sent us to the Matheson Café on the shores of Lake Matheson in the Westland National Park. The food was superb – New Zealand lamb and salmon with freshly steamed greens, followed by chocolate and Baileys cheesecake and homemade ice cream, and the service was excellent. It was the perfect way to end a lovely day.

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2. Best View  Our apartment at The Sunset Motel at Fox Glacier had a floor to ceiling glass wall facing on to the mountains and this was what we saw every morning! If you’re looking for a comfortable self-contained unit in Fox that’s not on the highway, this is the place to stay.

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3. Best Ride  We did a half day heli-hike with Fox Glacier Guiding. The helicopter ride up to into the remotest parts of the glacier wasn’t just a quick pick-up and drop-off, but a magnificent journey past the town and over the glacier to its highest reaches before swooping back past Victoria Falls and landing on the ice. The pilot made sure his six passengers all had plenty of camera time and he gave a running commentary during the flight. It was a fantastic way to start our day.

4. Best Experience  Our heli-hike experience was amazing and the absolute highlight was the time we spent in an ice cave. The entrance was tiny; we had to make our way down with only a knotted rope and our crampons for support. (My descent was more of an uncontrolled slide than a climb, and for a few seconds Mr ET thought my crampons were heading for his face!) Once inside the feeling was eerie and at the same time awe-inspiring. I felt like a true mountaineer, especially when I had to climb back out again.

5. Best Museum  The Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown is located in the old Bank of New Zealand on Buckingham St. It’s much more than a simple collection of local items and recollections; the history of the Māori, the first European settlers and the goldminers who came to Arrowtown is told in interactive displays, photographs and original texts which bring to life their colourful stories. There’s also an art gallery which presents beautiful local works and historical displays.

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6. Best Bed  We stayed one night in Picton before travelling on the Interislander Ferry to Wellington. This was one of only two nights for which we hadn’t booked accommodation and we were dismayed to find that almost every hotel and B&B had No Vacancy signs. Eventually we found the Mercure Picton Marlborough Sounds which still had vacancies. The price quoted was reasonable but the desk clerk was very apologetic because the room had a round bed! For us at this stage any bed would have done, so a round bed wasn’t a problem. It was colossal and comfortable – what more could we have asked for?

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7. Best Beach  Ohope Beach on the east coast of the North Island is an 11 kilometre stretch of pristine sand and clear water with views to White Island, a live volcano 48 kilometres off shore.  It has been voted “New Zealand’s Best Beach” so we’re not alone in recommending Ohope Beach as a must- see addition to your itinerary.

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8. Best Baguettes  I am not fond of baguettes – to me they are just long pieces of crust. This may seem sacrilegious to lovers of this French staple and for that I apologise. But at La Boucherie du Village in Akaroa I was converted. We bought baguettes freshly baked on the premises and hot out of the oven. They were truly spectacular! They also had a vast range of New Zealand meat and we bought our dinner there – delicious.

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9. Best Shower  And now we come to the most important best of the best: the shower. We stayed in six self-contained units in the three weeks we were in New Zealand and the showers in five of them were terrible. To be more specific the problem was with the shower heads. Some had so little water pressure that I had to run around the shower cubicle trying to catch the drops. A couple had difficulty maintaining a water temperature that was warm enough for long enough. The one shower that had great water pressure did not have a door which meant that the whole bathroom got wet, not just me. The 5 Diamond Belmont Lodge at Porirua had a faultless shower head – perfect pressure and temperature. The rest of our studio unit was really nice too but the shower was superb.

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10. Best Destination  We’ve had several overseas holidays and our trip to New Zealand ranks among our favourites. From Australia the flight to most other countries is very long and tiring, but it’s a just three hour flight to Christchurch. As usual, we spent a longer time in fewer places and saw everything we wanted to in each area. Even so, we’ve only been to a small part of this beautiful country and we will definitely be returning again soon. For us, New Zealand is the best destination of all!

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An A+ for Effort

On 2 January this year a storm front bearing driving rain, gale force winds and even snowfalls passed over the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Walkers and car drivers were trapped by landslides and bridges and roads were washed away. On the east coast at Akaroa we were blissfully unaware of the dramas caused by this unseasonable weather. The first sign of the storm for us was the heavy rain which fell on our last night. The following day as we drove from Akaroa to Wanaka we were congratulating ourselves on our good fortune in seeing the Southern Alps blanketed by fresh snow.

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It was only on 5 January in Wanaka that we found out that the storm might have played havoc with our travel plans. At the Tourist Information Centre we saw a travel warning: State Highway 6 was closed north of Harihari. Several spans of a major bridge over the Wanganui River had been washed away and it was not known how long the road would be cut.

Our plan after leaving Wanaka on 7 January had been to travel west to Fox Glacier and spend a day there before a full day’s drive north east to Picton along that same highway. After receiving some local advice we decided that as much as we wanted to see the glacier it would be wiser to make our way up the east coast instead. Luckily we were just a few hours inside the full refund deadline for cancelling our accommodation at Fox Glacier.

We had almost convinced ourselves that our new itinerary would just as enjoyable when on 6 January we started hearing reports that the bridge would be repaired and reopened by 8 January. In Australia the words “roadwork” and “haste” are never heard in the same sentence so we were sceptical when we heard the bridge would be passable just six days after being so badly damaged. Those same locals whose first recommendation had been not to take the risk now said that if the New Zealand Transport Agency stated the bridge would be fixed, then that’s what would happen.

So it was with bated breath on the morning of 7 January that we phoned the owner of the holiday apartments in Fox Glacier to ask firstly if they’d heard any news about the bridge and secondly if we could re-book our unit if the road was open. She answered yes to both questions.  Not only was the bridge being repaired but it would be ready a day ahead of schedule. Our west coast adventure was back on track!

After an incredible visit to Fox Glacier we headed north along State Highway 6 on 9 January in pouring rain, passing roadwork which continued on regardless of the conditions.

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These photos were taken through the windscreen of the car.

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If it hadn’t been so wet and cold I would have stopped and thanked these workers and given gold stars all round. Their efforts were truly worthy.

Walking on Ice

In 2012 a guided hike on Fox Glacier with Fox Glacier Guiding was 64th on the AA Travel “101 Must-Do List for Kiwis”, but it was number one on my wish list when we visited the West Coast of New Zealand. Mr ET was surprised by the cost but I was adamant that I was going whether he did or not! Of course, he had no intention of missing out…

Fox Glacier and its twin Franz Josef are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Area of Te Wahipounamu. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is advancing instead of retreating and its terminal ends in dense green rainforest only 300 metres above sea level.

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There are several ways of viewing Fox depending on budget, age and fitness levels. We decided to go on the guided helihike with Fox Glacier Guiding as it gave us the opportunity to hike on the ice in places that would be inaccessible on our own. The usual advice is that tours are dependent on weather conditions and although it was overcast and showery we made our booking the day before in the hope it would be fine the following day.

During the night we lay in bed listening to the rain pouring down and thinking that our chances weren’t good, but in the morning when we drew back the curtains in our room the view was glorious. Clear blue sky and a fresh dusting of snow on the highest peaks – it couldn’t have been better.

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Our tour started at the helipad but before we could take off we needed to be kitted out and instructed in the safety requirements of the day. We’d been told to wear layered warm clothing, while thick socks and heavy leather hiking boots were included in the cost of our tour. They weren’t exactly fashionable but I knew once we were on the ice I’d be grateful for the protection they provided. We learned how to board the helicopter safely, use our headsets while flying and climb down to a safe area once we arrived on the glacier. Most important was the instruction to squat with our arms over our heads facing away from the helicopter when it took off again, as ice chips go hurtling through the air in the updraft.

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It took only a few minutes to leave Fox Glacier township behind and fly up and over the glacier. We travelled along the length of the ice floe, over the mountains and the upper reaches of the glacier, and circled Victoria Falls before landing in the centre of the glacier.

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Once the helicopter left the only sound was that of water flowing under the ice and dripping from the tops of ice caves, until there was a low rumbling as rocks and soil tumbled down the slope on a nearby mountain. Dean, our guide, assured us that minor landslides like this happen frequently after rain and aren’t dangerous.

There was one more thing to do before we started hiking. Everyone was given a set of spiky metal crampons, which attached to our boots and gave us traction on the slippery surfaces, and a walking pole to aid our balance.

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Finally we were ready to go. We played follow the leader as Dean took us past deep blue crevasses, tiny sparkling waterfalls and blindingly white hillocks of hard-packed ice. Occasionally we waited as he searched for the best route and carved out steps with his pickaxe.

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The highlight of the day came when Dean discovered the entry to an ice cave hidden in the side of a frozen hill. He set up a knotted rope tethered to hooks which were hammered into the wall of the cave and showed us the best way to get into the cave. That was easier said than done and instead of an elegant and controlled entrance I simply slid from the top of the cave to the floor as if I was on a rollercoaster. Once there I was left breathless, as much by my surroundings as my helter skelter descent. The ice inside the cave glowed, luminous and blue, and a frosty silence wrapped itself around us.

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If entering the ice cave was tricky, climbing out again was even more difficult. Those crampons really earned their keep as I dug them into the walls of the cave and pushed with my legs, while pulling myself up by the rope, one knot at a time.

After 2 ½ hours on the ice it was time to make our way back to the helicopter landing site and return to the township.

We had one last birds-eye view of the glacier as we flew high and then swooped down its length, over the Fox River and the forest. As we landed, Mr ET turned to me with a glowing smile and said: “That was the best thing I have ever done.” Money well spent!

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Illumination

 

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Last week we hiked on Fox Glacier in the South Island of New Zealand. Our guide Dean found this ice cave, chipped out some steps, attached the knotted rope into the wall of ice and gave us instructions on how to make our way down into the cave. The only light in the cave came from the opening. The blue colour occurs because all the other colours in the spectrum have been absorbed by the densely packed ice and the further the light travels past the ice the deeper the blue glow becomes.