We got a healthy discount for Kerrie’s helicopter trip through the motel we stayed at, (managed by a young bloke from Brisbane), and Kerrie was off at 8:15am for the high country. (From Kerrie) I was up early and down to the Glacier Flights office to see if I could get a flight this morning. There was a vacancy at the 9.00am flight. YES! I was going to touch snow. Then he gave me the news “The weather has been unpredictable don’t know if you will be able to land” NOOOOO!!! The weather already has been raining and is now starting to fine up with blue sky. So at 8.45am I was outside the office getting the safety speech with 2 other couples. One lot from USA and the other from Sydney. So far it was looking good but the clouds were coming in fast and it has already rained again since this morning. They drove us out to the helicopter pad, this was also on my “Bucket List” I had always wanted to fly in a helicopter.
In we went, there were 4 seats in the back and one in the front. The 2 Aussies in first then me and the American man next to me, his wife sat in front. The flight was great and very smooth. Over the glacier and high into the mountain the snow is pure white.
Another helicopter is in front and landing, down we go, the pilot is constantly watching the cloud cover which is coming in again.
We land, only a few feet to go to be able to complete a dream of touching snow. The pilot opens the door, out goes the American couple then it’s my turn, I step out and my right leg sinks to my knee I think “That leg will be sopping wet” I hall my leg out and take 2 steps out on firmer ground as I go to turn on my camera it happens… the pilot grabs my arm “Sorry the cloud is coming in fast get back in NOW!”. I look up into the helicopter at the Aussie couple who hadn’t even managed to get out. I bent down and grabbed a handful of snow “I’ve touched it” as we are bundled back in. As the pilot takes off we look back and you can’t see the back of the helicopter as the cloud consumes us. That’s it, that’s my snow adventure.
It happened so fast. My mind starts to take it all in. No my leg is not wet, neither is my shoe. It was not wet and slushy or dirty as some people had warned me. It was light and pure white and when I pulled my leg out of the hole it was a pretty blue colour in the hole. It wasn’t even that cold up there, it probably would be if we had stayed longer or if the wind was blowing. But I’ve done it, and I can tell you I want to do it again, hopefully for a bit longer.
We passed two magnificent crystal clear blue lakes, Lake Mapourika and Lake Lanthe before arriving in Hokitika.
For some reason I imagined Hokitika would be a sort of “behind the times”, struggling town being so far west and relatively isolated. It was anything but that. It is a vibrant, clean impeccable tidy and clean town that is bustling and busy. Shops appear very prosperous, well patronised and there seems a generally happy atmosphere that is hard to miss. The Jade Factory which we visited was very busy and the products were innovative and beautiful. We finally got to try a “Whitebait Sammie” after I had explained to Kerrie what Whitebait were and why they are so expensive. We ate lunch (with or whitebait Sammie) beside the Tasman sea on a windswept beach. It was delightful. We liked Hokitika a lot.
Heading on to Greymouth we found a different sort of town, definitely showing its age we thought. I had visited here a few times by sea on the fishing boats when we fished the West Coast and now, apart from the fisheries wharf the port is no longer in use and is decaying.
Just out of Greymouth we stopped at the old Brunner Coal Mine site and it was fascinating to see the remains of what was once a profitable mine in the 1900s.
We headed on inland bypassing Westport as we wanted to make Nelson by night fall. This route took us through Reefton and then Murchison, which was decimated by an earthquake back in 1929 causing the loss of 17 lives and many huge landslips. Some of these can still be seen from the road. We also drove through Inangahua Junction where another severe earthquake killed 3 people and caused much damage in 1968.
We left the main highway to pass through St Arnaud which is a small town on Lake Rotoiti which services the Rainbow Ski Fields and on to Golden Downs. From here we were able to get a remarkable view of the Nelson Valley and the lush pastures and hills before heading into Wakefield village where I boarded with Vicki’s grandparents while I worked on the fishing boats out of Nelson.
Wakefield was then a tiny village – not anymore! It is heavily built up as are all the suburbs from here to Nelson.
I found Nelson virtually unrecognisable to what I remember 40 years ago when I lived here and was first married here.
We had intended to stay in Nelson for 2 nights but decided we would rather explore the Marlborough region instead so we headed to a motel we had heard of in the Rai Valley. Arriving at about 10:00pm after a massive day we found this site in the midst of thick forest to be the most agreeable and lovely spot. The fully renovated cabins were spotless and new and we had the most wonderful and peaceful sleep.