I woke early on my fifth day in New Zealand; it was still dark in the mountain outpost of Franz Josef. Franz Josef exists for the mountains and the glacier, and tourists flock here in droves.
Little did I realize when I started the day, that I would see sights unlike anything I had ever seen before.
The first experience of the day was a helicopter tour of the Franz Josef glacier, including a snow landing. It was only the second time I’d been in a helicopter, and the scenery was a lot different from the Hawaiian views of my first flight.
The trip up to the top of the glacier was like living in one of those IMAX/National Geographic features. We flew over the striated folds of the massive ice mountain, zooming in close for spectacular views. The landing was unexpectedly awesome; walking around the snow trying to capture the moment in film. Without exaggeration, the glacier flight was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.
After the amazing experience, which I captured in video and will share soon, I sauntered over to the Wildlife Center, still high off of the morning’s activity.
The Center is a new addition to Franz Josef and is home to two Kiwi birds, the all too rare bird that is the emblem of the country. The Center does a great job of teaching visitors not just about the Kiwi, but why it’s important that everyone work together to help save them. Watching the silly, flightless birds forage for food was an added bonus.
I left Franz Josef for the supposedly four-hour, really six-hour, drive to Wanaka. I stopped repeatedly along the way, shell shocked by the beauty of the country. Every time I think New Zealand has shown me her best, the next scene ups the ante. Of particular note was a stop at Lake Matheson, home of the famous reflecting lake from which dramatic views of Mt. Cook can be found.
The drive, while long and hard, was the best I have ever done. I have hundreds of photos from the adventure, but the real joy is the experience itself. Driving through narrow mountain passes, wide flats, skirting the edges of glaciers and ending at Lake Wanaka, it was a truly phenomenal experience.
Every visitor to New Zealand, regardless of their plans, absolutely must include a visit to the South Island’s West Coast. It is a supremely beautiful part of the world that is really and truly God’s Country.