When we tore ourselves away from The Breakers, we headed to Franz Josef Town. Originally, our plans called for a three-hour detour to go to the top of Arthur’s Pass, another pass over the spine of southern NZ. However, Jan told us that we’d already been over what was, in her opinion, the more beautiful pass: Lewis Pass, and that Haast Pass, on the way to Queenstown, was in our future. Moreover, we’d be doing plenty of driving on winding roads on our travels to Dunedin, the Catlins, and to Invercargill. (Note: as I write this, we’re in Invercargill, having just turned in our final rental car. We estimate that only 10 – 15 percent of the roads we’ve driven in Australia and NZ were NOT winding!) So, we decided to just take our time driving directly to Franz Josef, stopping at a few places that Jan recommended. Franz Josef Town is very small with a few restaurants, a couple of gift shops, a small grocery store, adventure activity storefronts and numerous hotels. Our accommodation, Punga Grove, was very nice. It had a great laundry (amazing how important that becomes when you’re traveling for weeks on end), was a five-minute walk to the center of town and had great views (when the clouds drifted away on our second day) of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. The next morning we embarked on the adventure of driving to Fox Glacier Town (twenty-five minutes over very winding roads including a number of hair-pin turns) to take our heli-hike to Fox Glacier. This road became quite familiar to us as we not only had to return to Franz Josef that evening, we had to drive it again the next day on our way to Queenstown! Fox Glacier Town made Franz Josef Town look like a metropolis. We were on pins and needles while we waited for the guides at Fox Glacier Guides to determine if weather conditions would permit a flight – they wait until thirty minutes before the scheduled departure time. They are trying to predict whether conditions will be good not only for take off but also for the return flight three to three and a half hours later. No one wants to be stranded up on the glacier! The good news came that our trip was a go, and we, along with seven others, loaded into “Harry”, one of their small buses, for the short drive to the heliport. After an orientation talk, donning of provided boots and heavy socks and weighing everyone (to determine weight distribution on the copters), we proceeded to the helicopter loading area. Each copter can hold a maximum of six passengers plus the pilot, so it took two copters to take our group up to the landing site on the glacier. I got to sit in front, next to the pilot, on the flight up – very exciting, and what a view! The space was very small and many of the controls were in front of me or right next to me, so I tried to make myself as small as possible! The copter landing site on the glacier was marked by a ring of small rocks – they change the site every few days/weeks, depending on conditions, because glaciers are dynamic, constantly changing, melting and moving. Our two guides, Tex (from Texas) and Megan (from Canada), met us on the glacier – they go up on the glacier with the first tour group of the day and spend the entire day there, guiding each successive group until they depart with the last group (our group on this day). Among the advantages of coming in on a copter is that you bypass the lower, dirtier part of the glacier, and you’re there with no one else in sight. The glacier was deceptive in many ways. Distances are difficult to judge, at least for the inexperienced, because there are no landmarks. Because of their dynamic nature, an area that looks solid may, in fact, be hollow. Fox Glacier is currently about 285 meters (around 1,000 feet) deep. Until about three years ago, it was growing and was 300 meters deep. Megan was our team leader, and she would frequently stop to tap an area on the ice, listening for any hollow sounds. When she heard a hollow sound, she would detour around it – we were strictly instructed to follow her path – no shortcuts allowed. There were numerous large fissures in the ice, glowing crystalline blue. Some were very deep; sometimes the sound of rushing water rose up. There were arches created when the lower section had melted away. Megan pointed out one arch that for several weeks had been safe to walk under; enough melting had occurred that it was no longer wise to approach it. The highlight was a tunnel that had developed: those of us who wanted to, crawled from one side to the other – a bit scary but exciting! During our entire time on the glacier, our guides kept a sharp eye on the weather. After about two and a half hours, they decided that conditions were changing enough that we’d be wise to leave the glacier a bit early. We took a more direct route back to the landing area, removed our crampons (amazing how sure-footed these made us on the ice), and put the crampons and walking sticks they’d provided back in the plastic bins they leave on the glacier during the season. I was lucky to sit in the front seat again but there wasn’t as much to see as the clouds were really rolling in. It’s interesting how many young people in the various tourist service jobs are from overseas, particularly in the restaurants. Many of them come on temporary visas for three and six months; there are lots of vagabonds! However, it was unusual to have guides who weren’t Kiwis (New Zealanders) – the glacier was the only place where we ran in to this.