Running my hand along the cool, smooth, mountainous walls of ice it was hard to believe this was real. Strapping on my crampons, crunching on the thick ice, stepping over bottomless crevasses and sliding through Ice Caves and tunnels. How was I this lucky?
I remember staring at the Television screen watching adventurers make their way over what seemed like impassable walls of ice. Crossing terrifying bridges over thundering, bottomless crevasses. This was not a place for ‘normal’ people surely? I mean, the movies make this very clear!
So how the hell did I end up not just glimpsing a look at but, walking on one of New Zealand’s incredible Glaciers?
I am a dreamer and an opportunist. One of the things I’ve surely learnt about myself on this trip is that I will do things I never imagined I once would, whether this is through chance, incredible opportunities or sheer stupidity.
Glacier hiking on Franz Josef was a mixture of Incredible Opportunities and Sheer Chance.
If you get the opportunity to visit and experience the wonder of the Glaciers, do it. An experience I wouldn’t hesitate to put my bank account into Zero for again.
Franz Josef Heli Hike
With a mountainous backdrop hanging behind the small town it’s easy to understand the draw of the place. Even without the Glacier as the main attraction the surroundings offer enough beauty and adventure to please the masses.
It’s not hard to see why so many people leave a little piece of their heart here and promise an inevitable return, I know I certainly did.
Franz Josef is an (incredibly) small town but is possibly one of the busiest stops you may encounter on your trip. They host the likes of Stray Travel, Kiwi Experience, Gadventures, Contiki and more. So if you are travelling in high season and looking for a quiet drink after a day adventuring, you may be sorely disappointed. The nightlife and social mix in this town will rival some of the bigger cities.
But I’m babbling…
An early start to the morning I headed to the reception desk of the hostel, full of hope that the Heli Hike was a go and the weather was on my side. YES!
8am check in at the Glacier Guides desk we were briefed on the do’s and don’ts on the Glacier. Warned to leave selfie sticks behind, told some interesting Glacier facts which mainly consisted of guessing how many lost iPhones will be found in the next few years when ice melts. Then – much to everyone’s disappointment – weighed and kitted out for the hike and the impending helicopter ride.
I had never been on a helicopter before and while I was super stoked for the impending walk on the Glacier, I was pretty nervous about a Helicopter ride. – even if it was just a few minutes.
Flying up over the small town of Franz we made our way through the mountain pass and approached the Glacier.
I don’t think I have the words to describe the Awe I experienced. The size at first is hard to comprehend, until you see the tiny people below you exploring the glacier.
Kitted out in our waterproof trousers, boots, crampons, cosy jackets and complimentary (yes, you get to keep this beauty) hats it’s hard not to spot each other among the ice. – thankfully.
Following a carefully mapped path our guide lead us through the beauty of the Ice, hacking steps with (giant) pick axes when needed, testing the safety of the ice caves while guiding us over and under giant ice walls. It was incredible.
I’m still impressed at our guide who was definitely doing about 10x more physical work that we were! While we were all bundled up in the winter sun, she was down to t-shirt!
Staring down giant ‘bottomless’ crevasses’ was both terrifying and mystifying.
Hearing the thunderous CRACK in the ice was heart stopping as it echoed all around; another natural event I never dreamed i would see. Huge ice chunks falling off the Glacier as it continues to move and change.
On the Glacier it is pretty common to see icefalls, they have even called the particular area where it cracks, breaks and falls, ‘The Bowling Alley’. While it is incredible to witness it is also a harsh reminder of the ever-changing environment you are in. Although you feel stable it could all change the next day for someone else; which really does give a new meaning to a ‘unique experience’.
You are on the Glacier for a few hours, plenty of opportunities for beautiful and fun photos. Ask to hold your guides pick axe, they won’t mind – you know, as long as you don’t go a bit nuts with it – take in where you are and fully appreciate how lucky you are.
Lucky to have the opportunity to not only see, but ride a helicopter onto a Glacier and walk in amongst the beauty of the ever-changing environment.
It’s a great adventurous walk, there isn’t a lot of physical excursion required making it great for everyone! Just as long as you can squeeze through tight spaces.
Taking the Helicopter back down, the view was just as beautiful leaving the Glacier. Greeted by a warm welcome and smiles all round from more of the group and the staff, words one of the staff said to me will stick with me forever. – “I hope you know and appreciate how lucky you are”.
Heli Hiking is possibly the most incredible adventure I have been on, and totally worth the money. Budget travel is important, but so is experiencing some insane adventures. If you can work out your budget and fit this in, do it. It’s so worth it.
Franz Josef is only one of New Zealand’s incredible Glaciers. If you’re looking for a more peaceful and raw Glacier experience why not check out the Fox Glacier too?
Franz Josef was an incredible visit. I travelled here with Stray NZ and paid (in full) for my Heli Hike onto the Glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. All opinions expressed here are my own.