Waking up in Greymouth it was clear we had left the sunshine behind and sheltering from the rain we waited in front of Neptune’s Backpackers for the Magic Bus. We made a quick stop in Hokitika, famous for Pounamu or greenstone (a.k.a Jade) which the Maori regard as a treasure. We stopped at a greenstone factory where you could see them carving jewelery and pendants from the greenstone which was interesting but it is quite expensive.
Next we stopped in Ross, a gold mining village with a little museum and this replica of the largest gold nugget found in New Zealand.
Then we drove through Hercules, so called because it was said to be a Herculean task to build a road through the mountains before arriving in Frans Josef just before twelve in time to do some activities that afternoon. We went straight to the tours office and I signed up for the one activity I had been saving up for, a glacier heli-hike. If you’re wondering what that is, basically you take a helicopter ride and land half way up the glacier, hike around for a couple of hours seeing ice-caves and compression arches and then the helicopter comes and collects you again. Sounds awesome doesn’t it?
Sadly at 12:45pm the pilot still wasn’t happy with the weather, lots of cloud, and so the activity was cancelled. Disappointed I headed back to the hostel, just around the corner, and caught the Magic Bus just as Gavin, the driver, was leaving to take those not booked on any activities to the glacier viewing point.
There was sun up at the top but lots of cloud hanging around lower down so I could see why the pilot wasn’t happy to fly. It was about an hour’s walk to get to the face of the glacier and, to be honest, it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected. We couldn’t get too close for safety reasons as the ice can break away at any moment and the ice was all stony and dirty. However it was still something to look up and marvel at this river of ice filling the valley.
As we were making our way back it started to rain but luckily we managed to hitch a lift with a couple back into town. Funnily enough, the guy was from Zimbabwe, although he left 10 years ago and is now living in Australia. Back at the awesome Chateau Frans hostel we enjoyed free soup and popcorn as we watched some DVD’s.
Hopefully the weather would improve the next day as we moved just down the road to Fox Glacier and I can get to do my heli-hike there…