New Zealand Dec. 25 2022 report

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 8: [On your own] Helicopter ride

After the hiking, ABD drove us back into town and we had the rest of the day, including lunch and dinner, as "on your own" time.

My son decided he wanted to go on a helicopter for the first time. I hadn't reserved or planned anything in advance, nor had I done any research beforehand. So we gathered some brochures. The first place we checked was Heliservices, and it turned out they had the flight we wanted available within the hour, so we bought it.

Look at the map below. There are two glaciers and a variety of flight options. I would not suggest flying only to Franz Josef glacier. Pick a flight that goes to both since it doesn't cost much more and Fox glacier was more visually impressive. There are also options that let you walk on a glacier, from a brief 5 minute "stand on a glacier and throw a snowball" to a much longer hike with special equipment. We chose the two glacier option with the "5 minutes on the glacier".

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The route we took is in blue

It was a short walk to the helipads. The helicopters all fly counter-clockwise routes. Initially you see the mountain range, then fly over Fox glacier and then land on a flat area on Fox glacier. The helicopter we flew was a Hughes (I think) that has room for six passengers. The pilot tells you where to sit, since he/she must balance the helicopter for weight. But since the helicopter makes a stop, the pilot switches the seating around to ensure that each person gets a window view for at least one leg.

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Fox glacier

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Victoria Falls at Fox glacier

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The rotors keep turning even after the helicopter lands. (I think my camera still had the insanely fast shutter speed I had set for the train, which is why the rotor looks still.) Before you board, they emphasize that when you disembark, you move toward the front of the helicopter and stay away from the tail rotor

It was surprisingly warm, about the same temperature in the town (in the 60's). We didn't bring our jackets and were wearing short sleeves. But my son discovered the hard way that the ice is really cold when he attempted to make a snow angel.

The return flight takes you over Franz Josef glacier and back to the helipad.

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Franz Josef glacier

Overall this was a great experience, even if it wasn't cheap. I would highly recommend adding some activity like this during your "on your own" time in the afternoon. We got very lucky with the weather because in the afternoon it got cloudy.
 

CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
Love the heli and glacier pics. Looks like a great excursion. So weird about the lack of anything sparkly on NYE. I recall ABD usually offering adult beverages on some evenings, and this definitely seems like an appropriate occasion. Wonder what the deal is.
 

mraviator

Earning My Ears
Joined
Jan 12, 2011
One addition to @Eastridge 's excellent Franz Josef report for any hikers or trail runners. With the afternoon off, it's also a good time to get a hike or a run in, whichever you prefer.

For me it was a trail run and I chose Callery Gorge.

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/new-zealand/west-coast/callery-gorge

https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-r...-park/things-to-do/tracks/callery-gorge-walk/

The trailhead is just behind the Alice May restaurant, which is very close to the lodging. The first half of the outbound portion to the Gorge is a bit boring, as the path is wide enough for a vehicle and there are zero views (but great shade if you're running!).

Once you pass the water treatment facility (I think it is), it becomes a proper hiking path, wide enough for one person with tree roots, mossy rocks and "trip hazard terrain" (go slow if you're running!). There are a few lookouts on the way to the gorge with decent photo opportunities, but the main show are the two bridges you end up crossing. The swing bridge is fun to cross and the water is truly beautiful.

Unfortunately, I did not bring my phone/camera on this run (still kicking myself for that...), not realizing what I would find! Instead I found a great page on all 12 local hikes, and the Callery Gorge entry has some very nice pictures giving you an idea:

https://www.walkmyworld.com/posts/franz-josef-walks#2

Had I had more time, I would have hiked the longer and harder Roberts Point Track, which gives you the closest and best view of the Franz Josef glacier, unless you, of course, land on it.

https://www.walkmyworld.com/posts/franz-josef-walks#1
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
One addition to @Eastridge 's excellent Franz Josef report for any hikers or trail runners. With the afternoon off, it's also a good time to get a hike or a run in, whichever you prefer.

For me it was a trail run and I chose Callery Gorge.

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/new-zealand/west-coast/callery-gorge

https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-r...-park/things-to-do/tracks/callery-gorge-walk/

The trailhead is just behind the Alice May restaurant, which is very close to the lodging. The first half of the outbound portion to the Gorge is a bit boring, as the path is wide enough for a vehicle and there are zero views (but great shade if you're running!).

Once you pass the water treatment facility (I think it is), it becomes a proper hiking path, wide enough for one person with tree roots, mossy rocks and "trip hazard terrain" (go slow if you're running!). There are a few lookouts on the way to the gorge with decent photo opportunities, but the main show are the two bridges you end up crossing. The swing bridge is fun to cross and the water is truly beautiful.

Unfortunately, I did not bring my phone/camera on this run (still kicking myself for that...), not realizing what I would find! Instead I found a great page on all 12 local hikes, and the Callery Gorge entry has some very nice pictures giving you an idea:

https://www.walkmyworld.com/posts/franz-josef-walks#2

Had I had more time, I would have hiked the longer and harder Roberts Point Track, which gives you the closest and best view of the Franz Josef glacier, unless you, of course, land on it.

https://www.walkmyworld.com/posts/franz-josef-walks#1
Thanks! I'm a walker, not a runner, but some of those definitely look doable!

Sayhello
 
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Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
One addition to @Eastridge 's excellent Franz Josef report for any hikers or trail runners. With the afternoon off, it's also a good time to get a hike or a run in, whichever you prefer.
Thanks for adding the hiking info! The only hike I did there was to the Bailey bridge to get that photo.

Others did skydiving, but I didn't hear how that went.
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 8: West Coast Wildlife Center and dinner

After the helicopter flight, we had lunch at The Landing Then we visited the West Coast Wildlife Center, which is a small facility in town that has two Rowi kiwi birds and tuataras (reptiles).

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While we did see the kiwi birds, we didn't get a view like the one in this poster. Kiwis are nocturnal, so you enter a room that is very dark. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the dark. If you are patient and stay quiet, you can eventually find the birds. One was scurrying around like a rat. It is easier to see the beak than the bird itself, which looks more like a blur of motion that blends into the ground cover once it stops moving. So just set your expectations appropriately.

We had dinner at the Alice May restaurant:

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Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 9: Do You Wanaka

This is a travel day. We spent the entire day driving from Franz Josef to Queenstown, with various stops along the way.

For some of the teens, this wasn't good because the bus didn't have WiFi. In fact, when Kira announced that some of the areas we would drive through didn't even have cell reception, there was a scream of despair in the back. The guides didn't do many activities or play a Disney movie during this drive. And I'm really glad they didn't.

Because while this may sound like a lost day, it was anything but. This was the most scenic trip I have ever taken, in a car, bus or train. You should be looking out the windows at the jaw dropping views of the stunning mountains, waterfalls and lakes. And when we reached the Queenstown area, that's what pushed it over the top for me. It looked like an Albert Bierstadt painting come to life.

The most important person this day is Ricky, our bus driver:

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Ricky with ABD guides Nettie and Kira

The roads can be pretty narrow, with one lane bridges, and not as many guardrails as one might expect. If this is something that really concerns you, keep three things in mind
  1. ABD vets the bus drivers it uses
  2. It's good to leave the driving to professionals
  3. If it really bugs you, sit in an aisle seat and don't look straight down
One of the one way bridges we crossed was so long that there are turnouts to allow traffic coming the other way to pass by:

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Ricky would give friendly waves to the other drivers. I guess there is an etiquette involved in handling one way bridges. In the US, drivers use hand signals also but usually not to give friendly waves.

The first rest stop was at the Haast visitor center, which had a view that looked like this:

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We also found a strange sign. Never figured out what this meant:

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We had a brief photo op at the Thunder Creek Falls

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Here's a stream we saw while passing over a bridge:

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Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 9: Haast Blue Pools

The first long stop was at the Haast Blue Pools. There is a trail that leads to the pools, which is about a mile long, so be prepared for a 2 mile roundtrip with a small elevation change. You hike through a forest with some great photo opportunities. We had about one hour here.

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There are two bridges along the way. This swinging bridge makes the load limit clear. Generally what would happen is you wait for the bridge to become mostly clear, then you start crossing, and then 12 people from the other side started going across the bridge, and then you hoped the engineers built in a safety margin.

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When you reached the blue pools themselves, you found an area people where went swimming and jumping into the pools from that second bridge:

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Tree on the hike back to the bus:

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mraviator

Earning My Ears
Joined
Jan 12, 2011
Day 8: West Coast Wildlife Center and dinner

We had dinner at the Alice May restaurant:

I asked Kira for her favorite restaurant at Franz Josef, and the Alice May was it. They were only open for dinner, and we did not have a reservations (probably did not need one?), so we went with Monsoon, where the guides had made reservations the day before. While Monsoon was fine (more fried foods...), I suspect Alice May was better.
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
I asked Kira for her favorite restaurant at Franz Josef, and the Alice May was it. They were only open for dinner, and we did not have a reservations (probably did not need one?), so we went with Monsoon, where the guides had made reservations the day before. While Monsoon was fine (more fried foods...), I suspect Alice May was better.
I emailed Alice May months before the trip. They said they don't take reservations for small parties, but that they would be open on New Year's Day and to just show up. People who arrived 5 - 6:30pm were able to walk right in and get seated.

This must have been high season in Franz Josef, as every hotel had a "no vacancy" sign, but the town never felt crowded and we had no problems getting seated for lunch and dinner.
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 9: Makakora Country Cafe to Wanaka

Lunch was at the Makakora Country Cafe. The guides set expectations. This wasn't a place for gourmet food. It's a diner or cafeteria where travelers get meals and get back on the road. We were told to get anything we wanted, and that included beer. I thought it was a strange place to include alcohol as an option, and I don't remember seeing any guest get beer.

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The main lunch options were pre-made sandwiches and a fish and chips platter. But I also saw a bacon and egg pie. Since that's not something I typically see in the US, I grabbed that. The food was decent.

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1 out of 4 items was a healthy choice...

After lunch, we continued on and had brief stops to get photos at Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. This is the part of the trip where you should play the theme from "Soarin' Over California" or similar music because the scenery was so amazing.

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We reached the town of Wanaka and had about an hour there. There are shops, ice cream and a beach. One shop seemed to specialize in wool products. I assume there were decent gift shops but I ended up doing something different.

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The photo above faces Lake Wanaka, near the bus drop off point. A little less than a mile to the left is a famous tree (That Wanaka Tree) which apparently is a place where people take photos and post them on Instagram or elsewhere. I stood in the open air car of the train for photos, so yes I hiked almost two miles to get a shot of that tree. It takes almost 15 minutes of power walking each way, plus time to wait for other people to get their pictures and get out of the way. In one case somebody even sat on the tree, which I wish they wouldn't do. The tree has been damaged in the past.

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Here's one of the stores that was close to where the bus dropped us off

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Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 9: Dinner at the St. Moritz

We reached Queenstown and the final hotel of our trip: the St. Moritz. I will have photos of the Queenstown area in the reports on the next two days, so you can see how stunningly beautiful this area is.

ABD provided dinner where we shared some long tables. Wine was included. They had a set menu with very few options:

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Preparing the lasagnas

The food was ok but the lasagna was too small. Maybe Americans are used to larger portions...

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CaliforniaGirl09

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 4, 2009
Day 9: Dinner at the St. Moritz

We reached Queenstown and the final hotel of our trip: the St. Moritz. I will have photos of the Queenstown area in the reports on the next two days, so you can see how stunningly beautiful this area is.

ABD provided dinner where we shared some long tables. Wine was included. They had a set menu with very few options:

IVZMHBk.jpg


ul2RlEs.jpg

Preparing the lasagnas

The food was ok but the lasagna was too small. Maybe Americans are used to larger portions...

ac5gVoH.jpg
My family would have been starving--we are big eaters. Gorgeous scenery though.
 

AquaDame

DCL
Moderator
Joined
Jul 7, 2010
We also found a strange sign. Never figured out what this meant:

wSLcyed.jpg

Oh, we have these signs in Oregon too. It is a warning about crossing rail tracks on a bike; if you don't hit them perpendicular your bike wheel will slip into the grooves and knock you over. Very unpleasant!
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
Day 9: Dinner at the St. Moritz

We reached Queenstown and the final hotel of our trip: the St. Moritz. I will have photos of the Queenstown area in the reports on the next two days, so you can see how stunningly beautiful this area is.

ABD provided dinner where we shared some long tables. Wine was included. They had a set menu with very few options:

IVZMHBk.jpg


ul2RlEs.jpg

Preparing the lasagnas

The food was ok but the lasagna was too small. Maybe Americans are used to larger portions...

ac5gVoH.jpg
Did anyone get the salad? Was it small, also? I can't eat tomatoes, so the lasagna is out for me.

Interesting tree, but I'm not sure I'd walk 2 miles just for that. Was the walk there pretty?

Sayhello
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Oh, we have these signs in Oregon too. It is a warning about crossing rail tracks on a bike; if you don't hit them perpendicular your bike wheel will slip into the grooves and knock you over. Very unpleasant!
Thanks for the explanation! I'll have more to say about bike riding on Day 11...
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Did anyone get the salad? Was it small, also? I can't eat tomatoes, so the lasagna is out for me.

Interesting tree, but I'm not sure I'd walk 2 miles just for that. Was the walk there pretty?

I don't remember if the salad was small. I will say the guides and restaurants were very good about noting and accommodating dietary restrictions.

The walk to the tree was nothing special. You just follow the beach
 

Eastridge

Mouseketeer
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Day 9: St. Moritz hotel

We have now arrived at the fifth and final hotel of this trip, the St. Moritz in Queenstown. It is built on a hillside. All our rooms had a view of the lake. How good the view is depends on what level your room is at. The lobby is at mid level and we actually had to go down to get to our floor.

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Our room had a balcony so you can step out and see the view. For the image above, I don't remember if this was from our room or at the restaurant level, but it gives you an idea of what to expect.

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The tile floor is slippery, but the room may have a rubber shower mat or you can ask the front desk for one.

Walking between the town and the hotel requires walking a steep slope. It's not very long but it is steep. You will do this to get to the boat on Day 11 or to go into town during "on your own" time.

The issue with the previous hotel was that I couldn't control the AC. That wasn't a problem here, because the St. Moritz has no AC. Unfortunately it was hot enough that the lack of AC was a problem. The February and March trips might not have to worry about this if the weather is cool enough.

So we were faced with a Catch-22. Cooling the room down meant opening the balcony door. But opening the door let the bugs into the room. At first, the door kept closing shut until I figured out how to keep it open by wedging the iron underneath the door. Then we used the white mesh curtain as a mosquito net to try keeping all the bugs out. That was only moderately successful. After about two days of this and getting fed up with finding bugs and killing them, I was able to get a fan from the front desk (had to ask twice). Then we kept the balcony door shut and just ran the fan and aimed it at the bed.

Here's the lobby:

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