We drove 8 hours from Queenstown to the very small, adventure tourist-oriented town of Franz Josef in Westland Tai Poutini National Park mainly for the chance to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier.
When we arrived to check in with Franz Josef Glacier Guides we learned that no helicopters had gone up for the past three days due to low cloud and rain. Crowds of tourists milled about, hoping to make it up onto the glacier that morning.
Talk about extreme good luck! As our scheduled departure time neared, the light rain stopped and the cloud cover started to break up, so we completed the computerized check-in procedure, swapped our own hiking boots for sturdier boots, thick boots and a sling pack with just enough room that we could tuck a bottle of water and a spare camera battery or two and then joined the other folks in our group to wait our turn in one of the two helicopters that flew us all up to the glacier.
As soon as our helicopter touched down in the designated landing zone, our guide helped everyone out and then we waited for the rest of our hiking group to arrive. I didn’t do a count at the time, but family consensus is that the total number in our group was 11 people.
We were all careful to follow the route established by Andy, who stopped frequently to use his pick to create steps in the ice or to do a little route-finding. We took every opportunity to take photographs.
One of the features of the glacier we most enjoyed photographing was the compression fractures.
We waited quite a while for the helicopter to pick us up. This isn’t “normal”. But the chief pilot and other key personnel were assessing the afternoon weather situation and eventually made the call that the helicopters wouldn’t fly in the afternoon due to increasing, low-hanging cloud cover. As a result, our guide flew out with us, which made us appreciate all over again just how lucky our timing was.
After a pretty bad lunch (again, we should have consulted online reviews before choosing a place), we decided to get out of the rain with a soak at the glacier hot pools (included in the price of our heli-hike). It was busy, but still relaxing. And we couldn’t help but overhear a bunch of the conversations going on all around us, mainly between young adults who were touring New Zealand by bus, staying in hostels and eating mostly at the grocery stores. The biggest line item in their travel budgets? Chasing adventure!