I woke up at 7am after a lie in! It seemed like a silly thing to waste the day sleeping. I did stay in bed and chill fotlr an hour or so before heading into the town to mooch about and find breakfast. I checked out the wildlife place with the intention of seeing a kiwi... $35 for what seed like a very short experience. I walked out again .. hoping to go back later. I wandered into the souvenir shops... fortunately I am limited in what I can carry which means im limited to postcards and fridge magnets and my bank balance isnt under too much threat. Generally here prices were high as it was a 'tourist trap'... but a nice one. Franz Joseph has a nice bustling vibrant vibe to it..perhaps drawing its energy from the mountains behind.
And what a panorama awaited me today. The cloud had cleared... the sun was out .. sparkling off the snow on the peaks of the Southern Alps. For some reason.. cloud i think... I hadnt seen the mountains when I arrived yesterday... but it was like the cycling gods had said.. 'well done for getting here... here is your reward'!
Having done my shopping I decided to go for breakfast and wandered into a cafe with a mountain view... I wanted to soak up as much of the view as possible and imprint this day on my memory. As I was taking a seat I heard my name... turned round... and to my delight ... it was Mary and Alec! Having stayed at Fox Glacier, where there wasnt anything open.. they came here and we just so happened to choose the same place to eat. It was a lovely unexpected surprise for the day and we sat chatting whilst I devoured pancakes... again!
Eventually though it was time to say goodbye again and I waved them off and turned my attention to the day to come. This was the one day I had booked accomodation and had been determined to get to. I mosied on over to the Glacier guides base. As I did so I passed a kiosk for Lake Kayaking and on a whim.. went in to enquire. As luck would have it... they had one space for an evening Lake tour and with very little hesitation I booked myself in! You only live once right... rest day be dammed!
Then it was booking in time. A slight mix up meant that my flight time was 15 minutes later than I had thought it would be and it was going to be cutting it close to get back for the kayak... but couldnt be helped and I just kept my fingers crossed for no delays. The group I was with held some surprises. On the website .. this trek, Ice Explorer, had been advertised as reasonably strenuous with three hours of walking on the glacier... those without a good level of fitness were advised to go for the helihike version.. with less walking around on the ice. As I surveyed the group there were two older people, who looked less thansteady on their feet on the flat! Yup guilty of pre judging but I was a little surprised. I had expected the younger people to be on this one. Instead they all seemed to be doing the hike to the glacier!
We suited and booted.. with all kit provided. Just as well because I cant carry boots and walking kit but I didnt like wearing boots that werent my own... and though they seemed to fit it could cause problems. We were assigned seats in the helicopter having been weighed. I didnt get the front unfortunately but was determined to get a window seat on the way up!
We walked along a jungle path to the helipad and watched as several helicopters landed and flew off with groups like our own. Then it was our turn. Excitement at a screeching level to match the noise of the helicopters roters we lifted off and turned before climbing up and hesing towards the hills. Briefly the thought of the heli crash at Fox glacier went through my mind but was quickly dismissed as the glacier came into view. White ice tumbling towards the valley floor.. flanked by ice that was brown with the debris from the mountainside. As we approached ... the size of the glacier and the ice formations became apparent. The people already on the ice were specks in the vast icefield. The helicopter landed softly on the ice platform and we disembarked... the noise echoing round and the rotar wash doing its best to bliw us off our feet. We walked up past other groups with big grins on their faces and our guide Nick got us coralled together to put our crampons on. He introduced us to our other guide Nick (makes that easy) and before long we were all standing in a line ready for going up. We were the first people on the ice for 5 days as the weather had been bad and they explained they may have to do some path and step cutting along the way .. two huge axes having been brought along for the purpose. We set off ... the crampons biting into the ice and providing a secure step.
As we went along.. every now and again.. the axes would be swung and bits of ice sprayed.. as the two Nicks cleared the path and re- formed the steps. It was reasonably easy going. Any steep steps and a rope had been fixed with an ice screw. But the older couple were struggling in parts and did slow the group down a bit. I didnt mind as it enabled me to take lots of photos and part of me also thought fair play for coming out and doing this... i hope im still doing things like this when im their age! They hailed from Colarado and although the steep steps were a bit of a problem.. they managed it and kept ip on the flatter sections.
We were basically going up and down ridges of ice... carved out by the glacier movement and shaped by the wind and rain. Every now and again a look back down the valley showed the ice stretching down under the blue sky and a look up to the higher point of the glacier to the more 'unstable part' showed glistening tower blocks of ice ... seracs... ready to topple at any moment. The icefall was breathtaking in its beauty... the blue of the older ice sparkling through in places.
After a good few ups and downs Nick 2 stopped us and invited anyone who felt tired or finding it hard to stay at this point to be collected. I wondered if that was a hint to the older couple but they were determined to continue.
We kept walking until we reached the highest point we were to go. The icefall part deemed too unstable to go in... we stopped below what they call the hole! Appeared in 2008 this gap in the ice is widening quickly and may cause large sections of the glacier to shear off. Nick also pointed out the level of the glacier just 6 years ago and a line was clearly dicernable. It has receeded a huge amount in that time and although part of the cycle depending on weather systems.. of growth and recession... the last 6 years was more drsmatic than previous.
Eventually it was time to head downwards and a small problem worsened. The boots were rubbing on my left heel quite badly and i could feel a sore area. I just hoped it wouldnt ruin the days to come. All too soon, having squuezed through ice cracks and wandered through more beautiful ice formations, we were back at the helipad... crampons off... and waiting for our ride back down the valley. The clouds had closed in making it a bit chilly and it was good to be back in the chopper heading for the warmer valley floor.
On landing... I had about 45 minutes to find a snack and check in for my kayaking trip!!
Checking in done I sat chatting to a young lady called Cesia... from Mexico. She had worked in a motel in Franz Joseph for over a year but had never gone Kayaking and was about to remedy that. Every winter she goes home expecting not to return but something draws her back here.
We piled in 2 minibuses and set off for Lake Mapourika .. a short drive away. Kitting up in the most fashionable spray skirts and jackets was funny and the sand flies took advantage of us standing still... biting wherever they landed. We were soon sitting in our kayaks... paddles in hand ready for the off. I was in the front and Cesia was in the back with control of the rudder ... so I was quite happy as every following crash into bushes and riverbanks was solely her responsibility!!
We slowly paddled across the lake... the early evening sun poking through the clouds and reflecting off the water... reasonably calm to start with... as we went further out it bacame slightly choppier but still easy paddling. We were aiming for the kiwi reserve at the far side of the lake and the calm of the lake and the evening seeped into me... taking away all the stress on the body of the preceeding days and leaving me feeling relaxed and calm. The sound of the water as we carved through it became a sountrack to just breathing in and out as we made our way across.
Lake Mapourika had once been part of the glacier and as a huge block of ice had carved off and melted.. it had formed the lake. Pretty deep as glacial formed lakes are... the water was extremely clear and a deep blue.
We reached the kiwi reserve and kayaked down a small channel... often becoming 'one' with the bushes on either bank. The reserve is where they breed the rarest kind of kiwi. The young are then flown to an island in the Marlborough sounds where they are safe from predators and then fliwn back here. They now number above 500. A fantastic programme which I have now contributed to as the kayak company pays the Department of Conservation per kayaker to go there.
The inlet was calm and peaceful and the sounds of the birds calling and the crickets was all encompassing.
Too soon it was time to turn round and go back and we lazily paddled across the lake again in the early evening light. I got talking to one of the guides about the ride. He had heard of the Eastern who are playing at the gig at the end of the ride and was a big fan of them. A climber initially from the UK he had arrived here almost by accident... kept intending to leave but had ended up staying. Though he was 'definately' going back to the UK in a few weeks.
Soon we washed up ashore... climbed out of the kayaks and found ourselves pretty wet. Transfer back and then race on to get food and start drying out clothes to pack up tomorrow.
Having half forgotten about my bike (sorry bike) the next few days started playing on my mind as I was eating. Only 5 days left but all exceedingly tough ones... I had left the best for last! With the Haast Pass to face and several 80+ mile days... my road to Bluff will not be an easy one!
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Despite all the activity today... I feel energised. Im made of life!