Friday, December 2, 2011

A heli ride and wonderful Wanaka

Day 8 (Sun, 27 Nov 2011)

Franz Josef to Wanaka: 295km

We woke up to a clear and sunny morning. Our prayers were answered - helicopters are operating today, hooray! As you can see, Franz Josef is nice and visible.

Lesley-Anne, Andre and I headed out to the landing pad to take a heli flight up Franz Josef Glacier. I can't tell you how excited we were - this would be the first chopper flight for us all.

Awesome cannot begin to describe it. It's extremely cool, so unlike riding in a plane which has to gather speed along a runway to take off. A chopper simply moves upwards and you get a fantastic view from different angles through the front and side windows.

This was the magnificent view coming in to Franz Josef.

The chopper landed on the glacier and a sea of white greeted us. It's breath-taking. Surprisingly, it's not very cold up on the glacier, only about 2 degrees celcius colder than in town.

We only got about 10 minutes on the ice but it's enough for the kids to make their snow... err.... iceballs.

On the flight back, Andre got to sit next to the pilot. Best seat in the house!

It's an experience beyond all expectations. There are no words that can do justice to the wonder of what we just did. I asked Lesley-Anne, "how can we possibly top this?" She replied, matter of factly, "we can't."

The 20-minute trip up to the glacier cost $515 for the 3 of us but as someone on the Amazing Race said, "you can't put a price on such experiences". Totally right.

With that, we left Glacier Country. We were very, very fortunate indeed because we heard later on, that the weather had turned grey and cloudy again, not 2 hours after we'd left, and flights were once again, suspended. God has been very good to us.

Enroute, we made a lunch stop at the South Westland Salmon Farm & Cafe at Paringa. You can feed the farmed salmon and they offer all kinds of food featuring salmon at the cafe. It's quite pricey though, I think cos it's a heavily advertised tourist stop.

Along the way, we caught sight of the Southern Alps. Looks fantastic on a clear day.

The drive to Wanaka, our stop for the night, takes us along Haast Pass which is a very scenic route as it's through several national forests. One of the great lookouts we stopped at was Thunder Creek Falls.

I don't know how many natural wonders one can absorb before we start to blank out but this was another mind-blowing scene.

We stopped at a couple more but this post is already very photo-heavy so I shan't post them all.

As we drove closer to Wanaka, it became a warm 23 degrees celcius, too warm even for a jacket. Wanaka is primarily a resort town at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, surrounded by mountains. What we quickly noticed was that Wanaka seems like a rich area compared to most of the other towns we've seen. There are some very fancy houses here.

Before checking in to our motel, we went to Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World which is probably as close to a theme park as you'll get in NZ.

Designed as a sort of puzzle land, the external is filled with eccentric architecture where you can do funny poses to add to the optical illusion. Like so:

The first thing we did was to try the outdoor Great Maze. It has 1.5km of passages and the sign says it takes 30 minutes to one hour to achieve.

But being typical Singaporean, I insisted we solve this puzzle the systematic way, instead of trial and error. My approach to a maze is that you keep left or keep right throughout. You'll end up traversing every route but you'll never end up in the same route twice.

My 3 Doubting Thomases were sceptical about my method though and kept quizzing me, "are you sure?" and "I think you're wrong!" Folks, the right route through a maze is never the route that seems the most direct.

We completed the maze in 25 minutes so I think I proved my point.

Inside the centre are several rooms of illusion. The Ames Forced Perspective Roomshows how illusion was used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings to create the difference in height. The shape of this room is totally distorted although when viewed from outside through a window, it looks perfectly normal. It's quite fascinating. Even when we're staring closely, it doesn't look like a trick!

Another interesting room was the Tilted House. The room is sloping at an angle of 15 degrees so everything looks right but is actually wrong. It's very hard to stand up straight in this room, your brain just can't adjust to the fact that the room is tilted.

Kenneth had to get out of this room quickly, it made him dizzy.

Just a few minutes drive away was our accommodation for the night - Lake Wanaka Lodge. It changed hands last year and is now run by Japanese. The room was lovely and very clean, with lots of thoughtful extra touches like Lindt chocolate mints.

Our room was on the second floor which meant we had to lug all our luggage upstairs. But it offered free Internet (which was faster than the prepaid USB stick we paid for!) and included breakfast, all for a very affordable rate.

It is one of the nicest motels we've stayed at so far - from our room patio, we have a marvellous view of Lake Wanaka.

Since the weather was fine and Lake Wanaka looked so inviting, we decided to take a stroll along the lake. Absolutely divine.

All in all, a VERY satisfying day.

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