It had been raining constantly for three days, so waking up that morning to a few clearings in the cloud and no rain gave us hope that we might make the glacier. None of us had time to wait in Franz Josef for the weather to improve so this was our only chance. We arrived at 8am and were able to pay and check in. Assuming this was a good sign, we started to process the fact we were doing a glacier hike and helicopter ride today! We got kitted up in over-pants, jackets, shoes, crampons, gloves and bags. We were all set to go; and then came the bad news… our flight had been cancelled. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and they cannot risk sending the helicopters up when that happens. We were all gutted, especially as we were dressed up and everything!
They rescheduled our flight for 11 something and we just had to wait. Our group of ten took to the café next door and sat and watched the weather. First it poured down; we debated on giving up the wait and heading to Fox Glacier, assuming the weather was set for the day. As we kept debating and watching the weather, it suddenly started to get brighter – even the rain had stopped. By 10.30 am there were huge patched of blue sky and we could finally see the tops of mountains that the clouds had been hiding since we arrived in Franz. Allowing ourselves to get our hopes up, we returned at 11 like an excited bunch of school kids. When we had to wait another 30 minutes we became an unbearable bunch of school kids which resulted in us playing duck duck goose in the middle of the shop – we were given a lot of strange looks!
At 11.30 we were given the go ahead. Straight down to the helicopter we went, as we were already kitted up. It was not long before we were in the sky! I was one of the few in our group who had flown in a helicopter before, but it still didn’t stop the flight being incredible; it’s such a good way to fly. This was a glacier hike like no other as the only access to Franz is by flying.
Looking out of the window as we prepared to land on the glacier, I couldn’t see the rest of our group or the guide. I didn’t understand where the pilot was taking us! Was there a problem? But no, it was at that point I spotted these tiny dots below us; even though we were low down against the glacier, they were tiny. Looking up at the glacier we were about to hike was crazy, It looked so vast and empty. It was a lot dirtier around the edges than I had imagined and the huge grey clouds hanging over us gave it a very atmospheric, stormy feel.
No one had been on the glacier in three days when we landed and we were lucky enough to be the first group of the day. This meant we got to see how much the ice had moved and changed over those three days and a lot more of the carving process. Our guide took the lead, hacking out steps, attaching ropes to help us up steep sections and often going off ahead to check the section was safe. The whole way up there were several periods of waiting while he did some carving or went ahead to check. Our guide had made the big mistake of not telling us to stay on the path. Now of course this was common sense for safety, but the boys being boys decided they would run all over the ice including areas that could be unsafe! This irritated our guide especially when he had to wait for the boys to catch up. They were quickly distracted when they got to have a go with the ice pick.
I loved the glacier and how blue the ice/snow was. I have never seen it that colour before living in the UK. The way the ice formed amazed me with huge walls and tiny gaps between them. The biggest show of the ice movement was the holy grail – a tunnel which had been formed a month or so before our visit. The formation was something even experts had never seen before. It started out as a trickle of water, making a small tunnel in the ice until during a storm the wind and water picked up this tunnel and made it into a huge 10m long tunnel. Since it was formed the ice has continuously been moving and now it is split into three sections with two of these sections having lost some of the roof. It really was an awesome sight of nature.
Our trip was cut short by 30 minutes as the weather – which had been worsening the whole time – took a turn for the worst. This meant they needed to get everyone off the glacier before the visibility became too low.
We booked the ice explorer trip through Kiwi Experience with Franz Josef Glacier Guides and paid $260 NZD each. They were a great company with small groups and friendly and knowledgeable guides who have been doing this for years. They try very hard to get you up on the glacier the day you book, but they won’t risk your safety if the weather is not playing ball!
We also received entry into the geothermal pools with this tour. This consisted of three pools of 36, 38 and 40 degrees C, along with massage treatments and such but they were out of our budget. The pools were a great way to relax, warm up and socialise with our Kiwi group, as nearly every person on the bus took this trip.
We took this trip in July 2013 as part of our three weeks in NZ, all facts were correct at the time of the trip and I would just like to point out I was not paid to write this review.