Helicopters and Glacier Hiking (December 26, 2011)

Monday, December 26, 2011
Merry Christmas (USA) and Happy Boxing Day!

Kris and I woke up late today and had a leisurely breakfast and lunch while waiting for our 11:45am courtesy pickup for our Heli-Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier.
View from camp
After signing the customary forms, 11 of us went along to get outfitted with boots, crampons, and waterproof jackets for the helicopter ride and two hour glacier hike. I wore a size 3 boot (and thought they were a bit loose). Kris wore size 11 boots.
Our crampons
It was a gorgeous day. The sky was relatively cloudless making for great views of the mountain/glacier. The first helicopter ride was a group of 5 - father and son from Auckland, student traveler from Germany, and a couple from Spain. Our helicopter of 6 was filled with Kris and I plus a group of four from Paris, France. (They smoked while on the glacier and took photos with their iPhones. I don't understand why you would bring either on a glacier hike.)
Our helicopter
The tour guides put you on the helicopter based on weight, so neither Kris nor I got front. However, Kris got a window seat on the way, and I got it the way back. (Regardless of seating arrangements...I got to ride in a helicopter today!!!)
In the helicopter
In the helicopter
In the helicopter
Right after landing

After landing, we met our glacier guide, Nick from the UK. He was an adventurous spirit who could wield an impressive pickaxe.
Our pickaxe wielding guide, Nick
Kris amongst the glacier
The glacier hike was really hard work for me. Everyone else on the trip seemed to have no issues, but I worked my tail off to keep up with everyone. The views were gorgeous and well worth the effort, but I found this excursion to be a laborious experience.

Part of the Franz Josef Glacier

The most enjoyable part, other than the helicopter ride there and back, was sliding through the ice caves. Kris and I both went through the first one...not everyone did. I intended to go in gracefully, but my body had other ideas. I wound up sliding backwards.
Kristy sliding through the ice cave
One later cave had everyone really using the crampons to maneuver through the hole. I knew I was likely to stab myself with the crampon if I tried, so I just slid through it on my bum. It led to a cold and wet rear-end, but I didn't give myself any impromptu piercings.

Yup...we went through this ice cave.  I think it looks like Mickey Mouse.
Kris had no trouble on the ice.
Kristy rockin' the crampons
The crampons are miraculous contraptions that are surprisingly easy to put on. They are spiky metal additions for your snow boots, and they really do make getting around on the glacier possible. I managed, somehow, not to fall on this trip. I'm still shocked. (Maybe I should wear crampons permanently?) One of the Parisian ladies did fall...and it appeared to hurt.

After we went a bit up the glacier, Nick stopped us to ask how we were finding the trail. I'm huffing and puffing at this point, and the French group say "easy". EASY?!? I was scared half to death of them making what I was already finding challenging worse and had to chime in and tell Nick that I was not finding it easy. I didn't want to hold anyone back, but a person can only do what they can do. Later I asked Kris how he had been feeling the course had been up to that point. He said, "easy."

You should have seen Kris traversing that glacier. He was running and jumping like it was a smooth path. I got somewhat jealous of his sure-footedness. I just hate being a klutz. But I did it. I completed the trail made for us by Nick. I climbed up, down, and through the glacier. I dug those crampons in like a champ. And I didn't fall!

Kris drinks from a glacier stream
During the trip, we chatted with the father from Auckland (in the oil and gas industry and has spent a lot of time in San Antonio) and Benedict (college student from Germany), and we got photos of each other to exchange later through email...including the always fun New Zealand jumping shot. They were really nice guys.
Kris does a jumping shot on the glacier - without crampons
Our new friend Benedict
Franz Josef Glacier
Helicopter coming in for a landing
On our final helicopter flight
After arriving back to the camp, we stopped at the town Four Square grocery store for soda and candy bars to commemorate our victory. We opted to walk back to camp rather than hitch the courtesy shuttle.
Sculptures in town
We loaded up the car after arriving back and headed to town to visit the Kiwi Wildlife Center. They have great informative displays about the kiwi and they have several baby kiwi on display. The display is rather dark, as the kiwi are nocturnal flightless birds, and they have replicated their natural environment as much as possible.

The kiwi were being quite active when we went through, and we could see them all. Some were seemingly hunting for food, one looked like it was grooming, and another was getting in and out of their water bowl.

It was a nice stop with a lot of information about the local birds.

We were able to stay parked in their lot to walk to dinner. We chose to eat at the Plump Pigeon for dinner. While pricey, our dinners were fantastic! I got the chicken kiev and was really sad when I finished. Kris got the ribeye steak with polenta fries and several huge mushrooms. He really enjoyed them. Others seemed to be enjoying their hamburgers, mussels, and fish and chips quite a bit as well. Best meal of our trip thus far. I would love to eat that meal again.

A trip to the Glacier Hot Pools came complementary with our heli-hike. This facility has three public hot tubs of varying heat set in a natural environment. We spent time soaking in the 40 degrees Celsius and 36 degrees Celsius pools. Toward the end of our soak, I struck up a conversation with a well traveled Kiwi teacher. We compared the USA and NZ ("N Zed" according to locals) school systems. Our students don't know how cushy they have it. School only...no extracurriculars. Parents pay for students to do after school activities of varying types...including sports.
Glacier Hot Pools
Glacier Hot Pools
The hot pools were good for my aching muscles, and now I must call it an evening. We have an early tomorrow.

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My Spaceship New Zealand Review, our journey through New Zealand in a campervan - December 2011

Our Spaceship Trip through New Zealand - our journey through New Zealand in a campervan

Our trip commenced on the 14th of December 2011 from DFW, Texas. We headed over to LAX before getting onboard our aircraft to Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived in Auckland on the 16th of December. We never saw the 15th of December 2011 and never will. Time travel is strange.
To top it off, as soon as we landed, we went to pick up Rhesus, our Spaceship.
Kris and Rhesus
My thoughts on our Spaceship...

The Spaceship really is a clever vehicle. Small enough to be easily maneuverable yet large enough to sleep and store your supplies.

My husband was quoted with the following statement, "It would have been perfect if it had worked like it was supposed to."

Setting up the sleeping area was very easy...we even managed to do it for the first time in the dark. Since it was only the two of us, we didn't find it necessary to unmake and remake the bed daily. We would just push back the pillows and bring up the last foam pad. Because of this, after the first night, setting up the sleeping area only took us 5 minutes.
Kris and I cozy up in the back of the Spaceship.
There are little cubbyholes toward the back of the vehicle on both sides that were perfect for storing a bottle of water, earplugs, and warm socks. There was also an additional lighter outlet toward the back of the car.

For the first few days, we had zero problems with Rhesus, but then the secondary battery broke on us. Due to this, we didn't have a working fridge, DVD player, or secondary lights/charger. Thanks to the Christmas holidays, we didn't really have a choice but to keep using Rhesus without the second battery, as Spaceship offices were closing. We could have called AA, but we would have had to pay the call out fee of $100+. We decided to keep freezing bottles of water and treated the fridge like a cooler. Most of the campgrounds have fridge/freezers you can use if you label your stuff.

Before the secondary battery broke, the mini fridge was amazing to have use of. It could freeze things if you weren't careful. Great little contraption.

Kris and Rhesus at scenic overlook
It rained on us several evenings while we were sleeping in the Spaceship. We still had the back extended during these times, and, as long as we had the windows closed, we stayed perfectly dry.

The pillows provided were rather thin, so we wound up buying one pillow elsewhere and shoved the other two pillows into one pillowcase. It was a worthwhile investment...we slept quite well after the new pillow was purchased. We donated the new pillow to Rhesus when we were done.

Taking down the back tarp was super easy as well...less than 5 minutes and it was all packed up.
The steps of set-up. I may be oversimplifying, but it really just felt like 5 steps.

Step 1: Open back of Spaceship. Extend framing. Pull out support board.

Step 2: Secure 3rd mattress and pull sheets, blanket, and pillows in place.

Step 3: Canvas the boot.

Step 4: Secure canvas to make it water-tight (six cables in all).

Step 5: Jump for joy. It's New Zealand, after all. You must be always jumping.

The locking container at the back of the Spaceship was great for piece of mind. We didn't put our main luggage in it...just focused on our valuables, electronics, extra money, and passports. Honestly, the windows were so well-tinted that you would really have to look to see that there were bags in the vehicle. You can't tell when casually walking by.

One tip...while the back of the vehicle is opened for sleeping mode, there is only one effective way of locking the doors. You have to take the key to the drivers side door and put the key in the lock and twist. If you use the automatic locks or key fobs, it won't actually lock the car. It looks like it does, but you can open the driver's door anyway.

New Zealand needs road signs that say, "We know it's pretty, but look at the road."

We spent a lot of time one evening at the start of our trip setting up the side awning. It took a long time to figure out, and it didn't extend as outward as I expected. Even set up properly, it was precariously perched, and you couldn't fit the table and chairs underneath. We didn't find it worth our time and didn't use it again.

While the table and chairs were a nice touch, we found that most of the campsites we stayed at provided picnic tables. The table and chairs are probably wonderful to have during the height of the busy season, but we only needed them once. They were easy to store and set up. We kept the chairs in the locking bin and the table behind the driver's seat.

The cook burners seemed really easy to set up, but we tended to use the campground kitchens. We did get lots of use of the plates, cups, silverware, and cleaning supplies provided in the Spaceship. It would be even better if they put some generic spices (salt, pepper, sugar, etc.) in the car as well.

The water tub provided was incredibly useful...from providing water to drink, water to refill drinking bottles with, liquid for hand washing or teeth brushing...it was great. We were incredibly grateful to have it when we got to Nelson and the water had still not been cleared as safe from all of the flooding the week before. Everyone else had to boil their water for at least a minute (even to just wash dishes or brush their teeth) but we did not since we'd filled up our water tub in the North Island.

Driving a Spaceship almost becomes a pride thing. You are compelled to wave at all of the other Spaceships you drive past, the vehicles just catch your eye and you notice their names, and switching DVDs is fun too (even if we couldn't watch any).

Rhesus, Kristy, and Mt. Ruapehu
The ipod/mp3 cable is great, but, when plugged in, the sound had a lot of static in it. It was still nice to listen to our music, even if the sound was a bit tinny.

Overall, the Spaceship was great for the two of us (age 29 and 31). I never would have guessed it would actually be a comfortable abode for two weeks, but it absolutely was. We are seriously disappointed that the backup battery stopped working, but we enjoyed our trip. It handled well, counted as a car on the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton (10% discount for this if you purchase a Top 10 Holiday Card - which pays for the card and then you get discounts at all of the various Top 10 campsites and some other activities), and was very easy to set up and take down daily.

We worked out a very easy storage system and actually found living out of the Spaceship on camping days much easier than unloading the car for our three hotel/motel days.
I had been seriously worried about having a campervan without a toilet on board, but there are many rest-stops or gas stations in New Zealand with free facilities for use. Finding a toilet was never a problem...even on remote roads. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wouldn't want to have to deal with waste disposal anyway.

So you don't waste money, remember that the Spaceship has been designed to not require a powered site...so, unless you rent the mains power unit, you can't use a powered site. Don't spend the extra money thinking you can use the power...you can't without the mains power plug.

There was a good amount of space given in the door sides and glove box, and there was another compartment above the glove box. We found these cubbies quite helpful.

The only improvements I can think of are: better pillows, salt/pepper, trash sack around the back of the passenger or drivers seat, start the trip off with at least a 1/2 tank of gas, and, if non-mechanical equipment (like the secondary battery) fails, offer at least a small refund since that is such a huge selling point for your company.

Ultimately, I would have another Spaceship trip around New Zealand in a heartbeat. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The convenience of the concept can't be beaten.

Time travel complete.

Kristy (me) and Rhesus in the Bay of Islands Top 10 Holiday Park

*Disclaimer: I was given a slightly discounted rate to provide this review, but this has not clouded my judgement of the product in any way.

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