We arrived into a very wet and foggy Franz Josef and decided after 3 weeks camping it was time for a bed and some luxury. We were in luck at Glowworm hotel, where we felt like kings in our twin room with free spa pool, free tv room, free popcorn, free evening soup and free breakfast. Rather than walk around in the rain, we went straight to the spa pool to relax and made the most of the tv room where we watched ‘The pope must die’. When the vegetable soup was served we realised they would need some help to finish the huge pot of soup, so we gladly tried our best to finish it. We slept well that night in our cosy room and woke to more of the same grey drab weather.
It didn’t matter that the weather was miserable since we had a day of indoor activities planned. Our first stop of the day was at the West Coast wildlife centre where we had reduced price backstage passes to see their kiwi conservation program. We had a great guide who informed us all about the plight of the kiwi and where each of the five species is found. The centre works mainly with the two local species the Tokoeka kiwi and the most endangered Rowi kiwi. We then went downstairs to see the egg arrival room, the incubation room and the kiwi nursery. The centre incubates wild laid eggs to boost the chick survival rate from 5% to 95%. Kiwis are in trouble due to predation from introduced mammals such as stoats, dogs and possums and when you know a little more about them you realise how utterly defenceless they are. Kiwis are ground nesting flightless birds, who avoid their avian predators by being nocturnal. Their only weapon is two strong legs to kick, as their beaks are highly sensitive, making them useless as swords. We were shocked to see how big the eggs are, a female kiwi lays the equivalent sized egg to a woman giving birth to a 6 year old child – ouch! It’s such a big egg that she can’t eat for the last few days before she lays. The highlight of our tour was getting the chance to see Taeri, a 45 day old fluffy kiwi.
Just how do they fit such a huge egg inside
Following our tour, we visited the rest of the centre which consisted of an indoor nocturnal house, housing two kiwis, a tuatara enclosure and a museum on the glaciers. We were very happy we had done the discounted backstage tour as the rest wasn’t half as good and full price entrance is expensive.
Our learning was followed by some rehydration in a cafe and then some relaxation in the hot pools. The pool were a nice rainy day activity as they are in town, but you feel like you are on the rainforest. The three public pools vary from 38-41 degrees and are all comfy. It’s definitely worth booking via book me to get a discount.
We braved the weather that evening and camped. We were rewarded with a dry spell to cook dinner before the rain returned for the night. In the morning, we woke up early to some loud tui song and were glad it wasn’t raining. Zoë took a walk down to the lake and discovered a misty mirror reflecting the snowy mountains. At last we could see the mountains. Somehow the weather had cleared and we could begin to get excited about going in a helicopter.
Our view in the morning from lake Paringa
We drove the windy road from Franz Josef to Fox and checked in for our flight. We were weighed and our seats in the helicopter assigned. Matthias had the privilege of the front seat to pretend to be copilot. When we arrived at the helipad there were helicopters flying everywhere. There had been 3 days where no one could fly, so now all the companies were making up for lost time. From the helipad we could see Mount Vook and Mount tasman and couldn’t wait to get going.
Before long our helicopter came into view and landed in front of us. The ground crew motioned for us to board and we got buckled in and our headsets on. Our pilot introduced himself, checked we were all happy and then we rose off the tarmac. Helicopters take off in a much smoother manner than planes and through the windows it looked like we accelerated fast. As we climbed we got a better view of the valley and flew in the direction of the glacier. Our flight took us up the steep side of the valley and over the top where the views unfolded.
Ready for take off
Ted got the front seat
The mountains are slowly taking off their cloudy blanket
Our snowy landing
We flew close to Mt. Cook and landed amongst the snowy peaks above the Fox glacier. The scenery was magical with fresh snow and dark grey craggy rocks. We could see mountains all the way to the horizon. Everywhere we looked, the views were phenomenal.
On the snow we parked up at the helicopter park and walked out onto the crunchy snow in glorious sunshine and blue sky.
Ready for another take off
We boarded the helicopter again and set off on our return flight which was arguably even better than the first half. Our pilot took us down from the neve and over the steep edge of the Fox glacier. The Fox glacier is one of the steepest around as it slides 13km down the valley. The crevasses and other ice formations were beautiful and intriguing. We wheeled back and forth getting a sense just how maneuverable a helicopter is and taking in as much of the glacier as possible. The glacier turned from brilliant white and blue to dark grey and then the river appeared. The sides of the valley turned green and we travelled out into the open plain. It was all over way too fast but totally worth waiting for. We were both elated at how lucky we had been with the weather and couldn’t stop smiling.
And back down the valley we go
And suddenly it got all flat and green
Instead of finishing our glacier exploration there, we decided a photography opportunity at Lake Matheson was required. The lake is famous for its mirror like surface at dusk and dawn which has been photographed by every Tom, Dick and Harry to visit New Zealand. Still it was a lovely circular lake walk and we were lucky the mirror stayed calm until the ducks arrived just after us. As we walked we noticed the clouds were moving in and slowly obscuring some of the mountains but we still wanted to get a little closer to the glacier.
Lake Matheson the mirror
We drove up the valley to the glacier face walk. The drive was interesting, if only for the signs that showed where the glacier had been at different time points. Like most glaciers in the world Fox glacier is shrinking due to climate change and the walk to the glacier is getting longer. We made the 1.6km walk easily, but as we reached the glacier viewpoint the rain began. The face gave us a different appreciation for the size of the Fox glacier and just how much rock it moves. We could only get within 450m, but that was close enough to see how it snaked down the valley. We didn’t stay long in the rain and made it back to the car in time for lunch before leaving glacier land.
The face of Fox glacier