We were quite excited that morning as we left early from Fox Glacier town to go to Franz Josef for our heli-hike – an awesome scenic helicopter flight over the Franz Josef glacier that would then leave us high up for a 2 hrs guided walk amongst the ice caves and pinnacles of ice.
The weather didn’t look too great…there was a drizzle and it was soooo grey. But we hoped that it would clear up soon. When we reached the Heli Hike office at 8:45 we were informed that the trip had been postponed and they would give an update an hour later. We hung around the office but that update kept getting postponed. I watched as the glacier which we could see in the morning, was now covered with dark clouds. Short bursts of rain, then the sun would peek out for a few minutes and then drizzle again. We decided to walk around a bit and I kept everyone entertained with my weather predictions – the clouds seem to have moved an inch and we can now see the glacier from here…now its hidden again!!! What a game of peek-a-boo!!!!
We decided to explore the place a bit to kill time. There seemed to some kind of an exhibition on the formation of glaciers with very nicely made paintings – and one depicting Maori Legend on the formation of the Franz Josef glacier really caught my eye.
Hine Hukatere, as adventurous Maori maiden who loved mountaineering above all her other pastimes, frequently persuaded her lover, Wawe, to accompany her on escapades into the hills. On one such expedition the unfortunate Wawe, who had never been found of climbing as his sweetheart, slipped and plunged to an early death. Heartbroken, Hine Hukatere cried - her tears were frozen by the gods as a memorial to her grief, thus forming Franz Josef Glacier or Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere (The tears of Hinehukatere)
A forest walk marked a little ahead seemed like a good idea as by now we were worried that the hike may get cancelled. Walking in the forests in a light drizzle with the sounds of birds made us forget our woes for some time at least. I am sure I heard a Kiwi, though Stephen was not quite convinced since Kiwis are nocturnal… maybe the dark clouds and grey weather had confused him!!!
Returning from the walk we stopped at a cute church, outside which I read some more Maori Mythology - according to which four sons of Raki (the Sky Father) came down to greet their father’s new wife Papa-tua-nuku (The Earth Mother) in a canoe known as Te Waka o Aoraki. The karakia (incantation), which have returned them to their celestial home failed and the waka (canoe) fell back into the sea. It turned on its side and was turned to stone and earth, thus forming the South Island! Aoraki and his brothers clambered to the high side of the waka and were turned into mountains. Aoraki became Mt Aoraki/ Mt Cook, Rakiroa became Mt Dampier, Rakirua became Mt Teichelmann and Rarakiroa became Mt Tasman.
We were now informed that the heli-hike had been cancelled but since they were doing the glacier walks we could change to that. After considering all the options, we called our agent. Our itinerary had been changed a bit due to the Christchurch earthquake so that we would be spending 2 nights in Greymouth rather than Christchurch. We asked her to change that to one night and gave us another in Franz Josef so that we could give the heli-hike another go the next day. Lo behold, she agreed and organized everything, even though it was such a short notice!!!
Stephen then suggested that we do the Franz Josef glacier valley walk to spend the rest of the day. The spectacular glacier valley walk is a 1 1/2hr return walk up the glacier valley and follows the riverbed made up of rock and shingle with great views of the glacier. The valley was formed by the glacier thousands of years ago and as it has retreated, features have been carved into the valley.
As soon we enter the valley we see some lovely waterfalls and the glacier can be seen immediately. The funny thing was that it never seemed to get closer as we walked down until we realized we were right up on it….just 100m away from the terminal face where you can see the ice cave and the river run through it. It was well spent time.
Yippeeee….next day is clear and we take off for our heli hike. We are taken to base camp and provided with the gear - rain jacket, waterproof over-trousers, woolen socks, caps , gloves, sturdy boots and crampons (with small waist bag). The views from the helicopter ride are mind boggling as the pilot takes us deep into the heart of the glacier and does the twists and turns! We land and start our hike. Our guide is a kid…all of 21 yrs. The glacier scenery can’t get more pristine and awe-inspiring. We see spectacular ice formations and make our way amongst towering pinnacles of brilliantly blue ice. We hear thunderous rumbling… that was the ice falling. We want more that we can see and not just hear. And we are blessed…coz we see several. It’s an experience I can’t describe in words. But the fact that Anita, who never really asks anyone to share snaps, for the 1st time asked me for my videos of the glacier ice falling.
It was well worth the wait and a fantabulous way to end our trip to New Zealand.