Departed our white room.
Arrived at the Helicopter Line office on the highway in good time (8.15am for 8.45am flight) only to find we were meant to fly from Fox Glacier, 26 minutes down the road. Oops. Always read the fine print! We’d been so thrilled to get the confirmation of our booking that we didn’t notice the changed departure point, but we were not the first to make this mistake and she was well rehearsed in what to say next; reassuring and optimistic words, mixed with lowering one’s expectations lest the weather prevent the longer flight we had booked for – anyway the pilot had slept in and hadn’t yet tested the helicopter. We were sent away to return at 10am. As we drank our coffees (no one ate breakfast just in case…) the clouds started rolling in.
We sat in their waiting area watching videos of what might be possible, weather obliging, read the safety billboards, coughed, sneezed and spluttered, and were weighed! Well that was an horrendous revelation (of course it was all our warm gear that added the weight) only to be outdone by a big “F” being printed on my wristband. “F” for what? “Front” of course!
Kate or Katie escorted us down to the helipad; we watched our copter fly in and were then loaded on, buckled in, introduced to our jolly pilot, Hamish, adjusted our headsets, and with no apparent extra thrust, extra noise, extra motion, we were in the air. The next 40 minutes were exhilarating, flying over the Franz Joseph Glacier, the Fox Glacier, around Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, before landing on the fresh powder snow at the top of Fox. Hamish unload us and all the expected photographs were taken, although no one threw a snowball or angel-jumped into the snow. Gary – for whom snow is alien – didn’t even touch it! (somewhat like Christine and I not trying tapas while walking the Camino…) Returning to base, Hamish continued to explain what we were seeing: Ron will have the stats. Easy safe landing, an exuberant shaking of hands, and our seats were quickly filled by the next foursome. Lucky people.
The snow landing had affected Christine and the combination of congestion and migraine reduced her to a sorry state and we limped to Wanaka, stopping at Fox, then Haast, then Wanaka. The day had turned grey and miserable in all ways and the trip was memorable because it finished. Gary drove the Haast Pass that comes with a reputation as a ‘must drive’ but it didn’t rate against the mountainous road into Masterton: Day 4. The Information Centre at Haast showed us that we hadn’t seen a Kea in the Wellington Botanic Gardens: Day 5. The Haast Cafe was good for 5 toasted sandwiches. In case there was a rush we were given a table number – 62 – but Ron, Gary and I were the sole lunchtime guests.
As we neared Wanaka we had Lake Wanaka on our right (huge), then after crossing ‘the neck’ we had Lake Hawea on our left, also huge; two glacial lakes that are long and narrow, and very beautiful, and made better because Christine’s health had improved.
It was a day of single-laned bridges appearing without much warning, and road kill: 3 possums and one unidentified.
We checked in and were blown away by the view from both of our rooms. I thought it best to phone ahead to check whether any restaurants were open (as our selected Christchurch restaurant was closed making the despondent choice of Lone Star a never-to-be-repeated experience) only to find that the first available tables were way past our bedtimes! Wanaka has a population of 70% Aussies in snow season. It’s a buzz all year round except for May & June and everyone eats out. A huge choice of restaurants and we went Indian and sat at an empty table for far too long. The food was really good though when we got it and the walk home up the hill had a significant nip to it.
PS Had I written this on Day 8 and not after Day 9, it would possibly have been written with more enthusiasm for the amazing helicopter flight; it was truly fantastic…but paragliding is something else.