Last week I mentioned the fact that swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura was one of my top 2 exeperiences of my time backpacking around the south island of New Zealand. This week I’m stoked to be blogging about what I consider to be my favourite trip during my time there – or indeed while travel New Zealand full stop!
Heli hiking on Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier?!
I’ve seen alot of my travel; buddies post pics from their hikes which got me even more amped, and everyone I seemed to meet in NZ raved about their trips their too, so I was stoked to finally get my turn!
But then came the dilema – do I undertake it on Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier?
I spoke to a whole heap of backpackers and did some serious blog trawling to get some recommendations but there was no real solid answer, in fact it seemed we couldn’t really go wrong!
So I googled some companies and brought up their websites. I’m a very visual person so Fox Glacier Guides won out over their Fox Glacier counterparts due to having a sweet looking websites which served up al the info I need quickly and easily. And if that didn’t swing it their packages all included a free trip to the glacier hot pools too!
Two Birds, One Stone
Glacier hiking has been on my travel bucket list for some time now, although admittedly due to my New Zealand travel planning a few years back so I was heaps excited to finally get round to ticking it off.
But when the opportunity to combine another one of my list items with it I wasn’t going to turn the chance down.
So instead of simply doing a glacier hike me and the parents opted to do the Heli Hike – a scenice helicopter flight around the summit of the glacier followed by a hike on a higher and less busy part of the ice.
I’m not quite sure what I was then more excited about – the glacier hike or the fact I’d finally get to fly around in a helicopter!
Bad Luck Turns Good For An Icy Paradise
On the day of our trip the weather looked pretty dreary and en route to the departure point it began to chuck it down with rain. Needless to say I wasn’t in the best mood. Even more so when they informed us it was actual cancelled.
Luckily we had a few days to play with so we booked onto the following day.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we awoke to sunny clear skies! Happy days indeed!
Kitted up in our sexy Franz Josef Glacier Guides jackets and bags we headed to the helicopter for our flight to the glacier.
Flying in a helicopter is something I’d recommend to anyone if they get a chance – despite the slightly cramped conditions of a chopper hovering above the ground with a smooth takeoff and landing certainly beats a plans anyday of the week – and touching down onto the glacier itself felt pretty James Bond like!
With the wind of the helicopter fading as it flew back to base we got booted into our crampons (spikey things you put on your hiking boots incase you weren’t aware!) and our epic guide Tom got us started across the icy plains.
Into The Blue
The sheer scale of the glacier was hard to put into context nestled amongst the valleys with no real point of reference – but halfway up the slope we looked back onto a group departing.
Both them and even the helicopter looked totally lost amongst the icy landscape and I suddenly became more aware of how much ice was there!
Negotiating flowing rivers, waterfalls and crevasses we finally arrived at what I’d been waiting to explore – some ice caves!
The first one was a small but amusing one – with the entire group having to lie flat on their bellies and slide through a small opening across to the next pathway. Watching my Mum and Dad negotiate this is possibly one of the most amusing things I’ve witnessed and given the fact neither of them like tight spaces it was quite an achievement!
The second ice cave was a whole different ball game though. Only accessible for about a day beforehand it was a good 40foot long, going deep into the ice and emerging in out of the glacier wall.
We all thought the first was a tight squeeze but despite the large entrance we soon began sliding through it – pinned both back and front!
Still the claustrophobia of it all was completely overshadowed by the beautiful blue canvas we had delved into. The smooth shiny walls were a mixture of blues and whites (caused by the lack of oxygen in the ice) and shafts of light illuminated it perfectly.
Juggling balancing on ice, squeezing through tiny crevices AND operating my camera without getting it wet was a mission – but totally worth it for some amazing pictures. I spent nearly 10minutes crawling around shooting and soaking up the ambience before we eventually had to leave and head back down for another helicopter pick up!
Check out the gallery for a few of my shots from the hike – just click to enlarge
Put It On Your List!
The whole Franz Josef heli hike experience was heaps of fun and unlike anything I’ve ever done before. The combination of a scenic flight and exploring ice caves meant everyone left with a huge grin on their faces and cameras packed full of awesome and unique photographs.
If you’re heading to NZ makes sure you pencil in the time and money to do one yourself.
Cost wise the heli hike wasn’t the cheapest backpacking trip at around $399NZ – but I’m viewing it as two things rolled into one considering it’s a helicopter trip too! The cheaper glacier hike without the scenice flight was around $299 or you can explore the lower levels and bottom of the glacier for a bit cheaper. Still you get what you pay for experience wise…and of course and evening relaxing in the 40degree heat of the glacier hot pools after!
The guys at Franz Josef Glacier Guides were heaps good too – with clean, suitable kit and our guide was probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had, full of knowledge and a genuine passion for the locations he gets to show people.
If you’re keen to do the Franz Josef Heli Hike yu can find out more info and book here.