Hunting Wild Glaciers

On our last morning in Queenstown, the clouds finally cleared over the mountains to see us off.

We drove north, past screen-covered vineyards and orchards, the latter of which were especially jarring to Jazz who grew up around uncovered orchards. The road wound across many single-lane bridges, and through various construction stoppages. This particular disruption stopped us for half an hour. Though we could easily have gone around at any point, the guy manually running the stoplight kept reassuring us that we would just be a moment, before going back to his conversation over the radio about the rogue car that had ripped through, messed up their work, and sped off.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Lake Hawea Dam, and Captain got to stretch his legs and have a little explore.

The road continued along the side of the lake. A bit further around, we stopped for a different view.

We continued through farmland full of grazing sheep, cattle, and deer, and across yet more one-lane bridges. This last one was too long to practically see cars coming across it, so there were wider areas every hundred meters or so where two cars could just barely pass. Fortunately we buzzed through unchallenged.

Fantail Falls made another convenient, nearly road-side stop. (Whenever possible, we check ahead of time that these stops are pet friendly. That dramatically cuts down the options, as pets are not allowed in any of the national parks without a permit! These permits are a rubber stamp for “boar hunting” dogs, but as far as we can tell remain unattainable for felis catus.) Captain liked the rocks, but did not want to be close to the river.

Just a little down the road, we stopped again at Thunder Creek Falls. This time we could hear the water from the parking, so Captain stayed in the car.

As we pulled out, we saw our third Ferrari of the day. One is cool, two is a coincidence, but three is starting to be a pattern. When we stopped for gas, we found ourselves parked next to yet another one. Was someone renting them out? The owners of this one were friendly, and explained that there was a Ferrari owners’ rally: dozens of Ferrari owners around New Zealand had congregated for a drive around the south island. By the end of the day we had seen over twenty!

We stopped to take another walk at the Knights Point Lookout, where we discovered that if we stood still for more than about three seconds, we would be swarmed with evil biting flies. Captain seemed to be immune, and was disappointed when we hurriedly hauled him back to the car. Where we ran into some local free-divers, who offered us some fresh-caught “kina”: sea urchins! (Thanks, but that’s one of the few critters that even Andrew doesn’t like to eat.) They were in full wetsuits and talking about diving, which, after Jazz made a quick pitch about our for-sale air tanks, turned out to mean free diving and not scuba.

We passed two more Ferraris around some road work. Personally, we don’t understand why you’d buy a temptingly fast car in the land of the automatic traffic camera… Maybe some of these long straightaways are safe? Unrelated: Kiwis crossing!

We arrived in Franz Josef, and took the cat for yet another walk, this time around the sleepy little town. There was another cat, who saw Captain, turned his back, and ignored him completely. Just a total boss move.

In the morning, the clouds had lifted and we could see the Franz Josef glacier.

We had a quick chat with a couple of tour operators, and we found one with space for us. We would have to check out of our hotel first (they wouldn’t let us check out late, at any price!), but a friendly guy at the tour info desk offered to keep an eye on Captain for us, so we were free to hop in a helicopter.

They stick five of you in there, plus the driver, so it’s a little cramped, especially with everyone trying to take pictures or video at the same time. The front is the coveted seat, because of the clearer view, but it’s a small helicopter so for weight reasons Andrew had to sit in the middle in the back.

We landed up on the glacier, where we were given strict instructions to stay in the landing area and not wander off towards the unstable, fissure-ridden edges.

Before we left the glacier, we got the inevitable sales pitch for the pictures the guide had taken and immediately printed, “to supplement your driver’s income”; even here in mostly-tip-free New Zealand, the tourist industry is just like everywhere else.

The ride back down (with Jazz up front this time!) took us along a deeply cracked ice sheet, then back down through the forested hills to the flattened farmland below.

Back on the ground, we collected our cat, and were informed that he had been very well behaved; he’d come out of his box to patrol the shop a bit, and then spent most of the time napping. We woke him up and walked back to the car to drive onward, passing this excellent statue.

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