Helicopters, Snowmen, Blue slopes and speed tears

Trip Start Oct 10, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Saturday, June 30, 2007

The last two weeks in NZ have been super. We pulled up to Franz Josef town to a beautiful blue sky and a crisp clear day.  Having trekked on Glaciers before in Patagonia, this time we decided to experience the Glaciers from a different angle.... the air, so we treated ourselves to a helicopter ride over the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier with a snow landing. When we met the pilot he politely asked us if we would mind if his parents sat in the back, they looked a little pale when we said 'No problems!'.  The take off was fantastic and within seconds we were clipping the trees and heading up and over the mountain tops to reach the Glaciers. Flying over the Glaciers can only be described as heavenly. We will let the video and the photographs speak for themselves.
Every now and again, the pilot radioed over the headset to say 'Did you see that Mam?', which was comical!  He really gave us an amazing flight, and spun the helicopter around 180 degrees at times and did some amazingly close manoeuvres, hugging the mountains and the Glaciers. We landed beautifully on pristine snow on the glacier top and spent a few minutes savouring the solitude and surroundings. It was a totally exhilarating experience and one we would do again in a second.
Next stop was Wanaka where we planned to maybe do a bit of skiing. However, Wanaka and the whole area of Central Otago was hit by the heaviest snow storm they have had in the last 8 years, so we were snow bound for 3 days. Luckily enough, Wanaka is a cool spot to get stuck in, lots of bars, restaurants etc and a Puzzle World, where we spent hours trying to solve puzzles. Ironically the snow peaks were closed due to there being too much snow and nobody could access the peaks with the roads being blocked!!!  With nowhere to go, we built a freaky looking snowmen and generally hung about chatting to fellow snowbound people around the wood fire, all acting like children who were off school for the day... After 3 days the snow began to ease off and we decided to attempt the drive to Queenstown...  it took us a while to get the snow chains on the van but we managed none the less and set off on our long journey with a whopping speed of 20kph, it took us half the day to get there....but we finally did.
We have met so many people along our travels talking about Milford Sound, so after the first night in Queenstown we drove the 5 hour journey to Milford Sound the next day.  It was a beautiful drive, and with everything covered in snow in such a remote place, we felt very far away from anywhere.   Arriving in Milford Sound late in the afternoon we quickly checked out the local boat cruises on offer. Business being slow due to the snowy weather, we were offered 2 cruises for the price of one. Last one of the day and first boat in the morning... nice little deal we couldn't turn down.  Milford Sound is in the heart of Fiordland, which was carved out by a glacier many (many) years ago. We cruised through the calm waters and all around you is pure natural untouched beauty.  Snow capped granite mountains tower high up over the boat, there are some spectacular tall waterfalls, one which we went right up close to and got saturated! We stopped just after the sound meets the Tasman Sea, where the next stop would be Australia. We didn't bother with a campsite that night, instead opting to park up beside the dramatic Sound just in time for sunset. The next morning we were up early and we caught the morning cruise through the sounds again. The light was beautiful with the sun just reaching the tops of the snow mountains turning them orange. This time we came across loads of dolphins and they surrounded our boat and followed us for over 10 minutes, playing and jumping, loving our attention. It was a beautiful experience first thing in the morning.

Back to Queenstown and with the Winter festival just starting and all the slopes being open, there was a great buzz around the town. We signed up for two days of skiing and lessons in Coronet Peak. We both loved the skiing and boldly attempted a Blue (intermediate) slope on day two.
Possibly not a good idea but we managed it without breaking anything....   At one stage I (Lenny) was going so fast, I had speed tears rolling down my face - more practice is definitely needed!!!!  Queenstown is a cool place and we hit the town on our last night before heading across the Tasman Sea the following day to our next stop, OZ.
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