Day 173 - Up Up and Away to the Top of Franz Josef Glacier

  Motorhome Driving: Day Eleven

Motorhome Driving: Day Eleven

Hello there Mr. Sun!  We woke up to blue skies and sunshine, with all the rain from yesterday finally out of the way.  Excited for our helicopter ride, we began to get ready quickly, but did have a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of the holiday park we were staying at.  So luscious and green!

At the Glaciers Helicopters center, we were given a few simple safety instructions, and shortly after were escorted to the flying pads.  We were 7 passengers in total, including the kids.  Kian got lucky and ended up getting his own seat without even having to pay for it.  Hannah rode on my lap and at first didn't have a earphones to cover her little ears, but our very nice pilot grabbed her a small size one before we took off. 

3..2..1...blast off...or well...take off.  Flying in a helicopter was actually a lot smoother than I had thought, and it almost felt like we were in a large IMAX theater watching one of those flying movies, except much much cooler. 

All I could think as we flew over the terminal end to the top of the Fraz Josef glacier was, WOW!  So beautiful. so calm, so white...and blue! 

The flight to the top only took a few minutes.  As we flew, the pilot told us that in parts the snow was 40 meters deep!  At the top, the helicopter landed and we were allowed to get out and walk on the glacier.  Would you believe that the temperature on the very top was only 1 degree lower than the temperature on the helipad?!  This is why we did not need to dress for winter, although we all could have used sunglasses!! 

The kids had a great time playing with some snow and we even had a mini snowball fight!  One might say this was a slight detour from chasing summer! 

On the flight back down to the helipad we also saw some gorgeous views, although I was still too mesmerized with the glacier views to properly appreciate what was laid out before my eyes.  I am so glad the weather cleared up and we found a decent deal to go all the way to the top of the glacier, because as cool as hiking might have been, we would not have been able to see the glacier in all it's glory by just staring at the terminal end.

Back in the tiny town of Franz Josef, we decided to check out the cute and very popular kiwi birds at the West Coast Wildlife center.  We learned quite a few facts such as how Rowi kiwis are an extremely endangered species, they breed between June and February and the females only lay 1 egg per year.

We also learned about an adorable Maori (native New Zealanders) legend:

"One day the king of the forest, Tane-mahuta, was walking through the forest.  He looked at his trees and noticed they looked sick because they were being eaten by the bugs that lived on the forest floor.  So he called all the birds together for a meeting and asked if one would come down from the forest canopy to live on the forest floor and help save the trees.  Not a single bird spoke,   so each one was asked in turn. Tui refused.  He was afraid of the darkness down on the ground away from the sun.  Puck refused.  He found the forest floor too cold and the earth too damp.  Pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo, also refused.  He was too busy building a nest.  
But the Kiwi agreed.  He looked at the sun filtering through the high leaves and the damp cold earth, and he looked around and saw his family and said yes.  Take-Mahuta was filled with joy, for this little bird had given him hope, but he felt he should still warn Kiwi of what lay ahead. "Kiwi do you realize that if you do this, you will have to grow thick strong legs so you can rip logs apart, you will lose your beautiful wings and colorful feathers so you blend in with the color of the forest floor.  You will not be able to return to the forest roof and will never see the light of day again?"
Kiwi took one last long look at the sun and whispered a quiet "good-bye".
Since then Tui has worn two white feather at his throat, the mark of a coward.  Puck has lived forever in a swamp, with wet feet, and Pipiwharauroa has never built another nest - instead the cuckoo always lays her eggs in other birds' nest.  But because of Kiwi's great sacrifice, he has become the most well-known and most loved bird of all."

In terms of seeing a Rowi Kiwi, the center is actually pretty disappointing.  After reading all the signs, we walked into a long, dark...very dark... room.  Once our eyes adjusted slightly we were able to squint around and look for the Kiwis.  We managed to see one little guy!  No pictures are allowed, but by boosting the ISO to max and using manual focus we were able to snap a shot of the little guy without any light disturbing him.  The ticket to enter the center is not cheap, and it is a shame because that definitely attributes to the disappointment.  For an additional cost you can get VIP access, which really just means being able to walk into the room where the staff can show you how they care for the Kiwi birds, but it wasn't clear you actually see any kiwis up close and personal, so we decided to skip that.  The center also includes information on glaciers, which are informative but not super fun for young kids.  At least Kian and Hannah had fun running through small glaciers made of plastic as we tried to read the signs.

After the center, we headed to the Glacier Hot Pools.  Not to be confused with natural thermal springs, at the Glacier Hot Pools they have manmade pools filled with glacier water heated to different temperatures.  There are 3 public pools all set to different temperatures starting at 36°C.  Admission is not especially cheap, although young kids like ours could enter for free!  We also got lucky and were able to get half price tickets because there was some maintenance going on and they only had 1 pool open.  We asked the kids to periodically get out of the pool to cool down, but they both loved the nice warm 38° water. 

After our long day of being out and about, we went to a grocery store before bidding Franz Josef good-bye.  I never would have guessed that this tiny town would steal a big piece of our heart. 

Although we could have just called it a day, we had to keep up with our itinerary.  We headed towards our next camp site, the Pororari Car Park in Punakaiki, north of Greymouth.  

We weren't sure if we could camp in the car park overnight because we saw a few reviews from other campers saying that they were fined, however once we arrived and looked over the signs it seemed OK for self-contained vehicles to stay 1 night.  Although the car park itself is nothing fancy to boast about, the trail behind it is absolutely gorgeous.  I am not sure how we had the energy for it, but we decided to go on a short walk after dinner. 

As we hiked, we ran into a local family and had a nice little chat.  The older gentleman told us that when he was young, he and his friends used to take the fallen palm leaves and slide down the hill in them.  We tried to replicate the fun...although there was more dragging than sliding!

As we returned to Wendekreisen, we decided to check out the sunset on beach which was only about a block away from where we had parked.  

We actually didn't know it, but it turned that this was THE place to watch a sunset.  There were quite a few people sitting and waiting for the sunset, and wow!  It was the most gorgeous sunset we have seen in a long time, with the sun being completing devoured by the sea! 

Good night Mr. Sun! 

Elmer the Elf Update:

Remember last night Hannah drew a picture of Elmer with Kian's help?  Seems like Elmer loved that drawing too and wanted to bring something special for Hannah, just like he did for Kian. 

Our elf is awesome!