Ice Exploring on the Franz Josef Glacier
When in Franz Josef there is one thing you have to see, the Franz Josef Glacier! But on this trip of 365 days doing 365 activities, we are not doing things lightly. Today, we are taking a helicopter onto the glacier itself, tightening up the crampons, and walking on the glacier itself!
We are so stoked when we open the curtains of our campervan at Rainforest Retreat to see blue skies with only whisps of cloud! Yesterday, our helicopter flight was cancelled due to the low cloud so we indulged in the Glacier Hot Pools instead, but we can see with our own eyes that today it won’t be an issue.
Franz Josef Glacier Guides are based just across the road from Rainforest Retreat, so it’s only a funky bushwalk from the powered sites, through all Rainforest Retreat’s huge selection of accommodation, to the “Glacier Base”.
Signing and selfie sticks
We check-in for our trip, are given an electronic wristband (and a free beenie, wahoo!) so we can scan it into their row of computers and fill up the disclaimer form. From there, we relax on the Glacier Base’s beanbags chatting to a group of Irish, Swiss and Chinese who are joining us on the trip today.
One by one, we are called up to stand on some scales so the Glacier Guide team can record our weights for even distribution on the helicopter flight, then a dude called Nick gives us a run through of the gear we will be provided with and what we can’t take up there. There are not many restrictions other than NO SELFIE STICKS, PEOPLE!
Booted and suited!
In the changing rooms, we are booted, get some overpants, a sexy blue jacket, crampons, thick socks, mittens (optional) and a large fanny pack to put across our torso. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to wear it around your waist like a tourist of the ’80s).
Now, the moment Laura has been most excited about – taking a helicopter! This is the first time Laura is taking a helicopter. To her, it’s just something she had seen in movies. But, when in New Zealand, you get to do epic stuff like this!
We do a bit of a bushwalk to get to the hidden helipad where we’re given a quick briefing on how to safely approach the helicopter.
After some quick obligatory photos outside of the helicopter, we get in! The chopping noise is intense, so hand signals and a guy handling us into place is how we get on the helicopter. Robin has a back window seat, as obviously he is a fatty, and Laura gets prime position in the front with windows all around her, including her feet!
5 minutes above Franz Josef Glacier
Take off! We smoothly rise into the air and watch the distance between us and the ground become greater and greater! Although the helicopter flight is around 5 minutes, what we see is freakin’ incredible. The whole glacier along with its glacial valley and emerging river can be seen! This glacier is humongous. Plus, we can see small waterfalls trickle down the valley sides.
Ah, if only we could stay up here longer and have a look at the glacial valley. It’s one of those things that doesn’t sound quite as impressive as the glacier itself until you see it.
The helicopter lands on a flat makeshift helipad on the ice and our guide, Michael, is helping us out of the helicopter one-by-one. Once the helicopter flies the f*ck off so we can hear again, Michael gives us a demonstration of how to put on our crampons. However, we get a bit distracted by a kea slipping and sliding on the ice behind us and making a noise that we can only describe is like a cat meowing. This is the first time we have seen a kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, on this trip so we are buzzing to be so close to one right now!
Once the kea has flown away with a piece of ice in its beak, we realise: “So, how are we supposed to put on our crampons?” We do the sneaky school kid trick of watching everyone else putting them on then copying them.
Now, it’s time to go for a walk!
Michael leads the way one section of the track at a time, going up ahead to check if its safe, shovelling and ice picking where necessary, then coming back to tell us its safe. Meanwhile, we get to marvel at the unique and striking environment. It’s like being in a city of ice with large craggy ice forms towering above us.
Of course, we were expecting ice and lots of it, but we were not prepared for such a stunning backdrop of mountains with mini glaciers, greenery and snowy peaks. We’re blown away.
Michael comes back after shovelling loose ice off every step ahead of us to lead us through steep sections with ropes to hold onto and our walking poles to balance us. There’s rope sections that lead past holes in the ice.
The group has a lot of questions for Micheal as we’re going about how much does the glacier move (half a metre per day?!?!!) and how do they make the track. Micheal is clearly passionate about forming the tracks on the glacier, even discovering a few himself including The Toddler. The Toddler is a section where we have to hold our breath to squeeze past two walls of ice, but that’s nothing compared to a brand new section of the track they have just made today.
Hiking through an icy wonderland
A tight squeeze and a sip of glacial goodness
We can only squeeze through one at a time in a narrow corridor with walls three times the size of us. The ice helps us slip through.
In this higher section of the Franz Josef Glacier, stream have formed where the ice has melted, which Michael invites us to drink. Robin jumps at the chance to get his hands in the water and have a gulp of that glacial goodness!
Once we reach as high as we can go before being faced with and ice wall of the glacier that is the height of the three-storey building, we have a quick break for more photos before heading back down a different route to the helipad. While we’re up here, we hear a massive rumble, look back, and see part of the glacier wall crumble and collapse. Gulp!
Heli to home
It’s back at the helicopter for the flight down, this time the pilot is having a bit of fun with us dropping in height quickly and doing some sharp turns – really trying to make the most of our last 5 minutes in a helicopter.
From the helipad, it’s back through the rainforest and back to the Glacier Base where we say goodbye to our fellow glacier explorers and dash for some much-needed lunch and water!
Can things get more epic in Franz Josef?!
The rest of the afternoon is pretty uneventful compared to the adventure we’ve just been on, so we won’t bore you with the details. However, stick around tomorrow where we get a whole different view of the glacier by doing the highest skydive in New Zealand! See you then!
On top of the epic Franz Josef Glacier!
On top of the epic Franz Josef Glacier!
Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
On top of the epic Franz Josef Glacier! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Sweet! Check out these articles:
- 10 Facts You Did Not Know About New Zealand’s Glaciers
- Glacier Country – Guide for Backpackers
- 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers
See you tomorrow!