Mark and Mika Take on the WORLD!!! travel blog

The best seat in the house, next to the pilot

Franz-Joseph Glacier, A Moving Mass of Ice

a solid, 600 feet of ice


We're equiped and ready to go!

Our chopper

Ice cave

ooh, ahh

Ready with the ice pick

Frozen Glacial Stream

Sliding down the wormhole

Climbing to the wormhole

Doing splits

Oh, that beautiful, blue color!

The weather moves in

Superman tries to break through the ice

We're stuck!

Slipin' n Slidin'

Ice climbing

Superman's home

Within the first 5 seconds, we already knew this helihike of Franz-Josef glacier would be one of the highlights of New Zealand. The chopper hovered a few feet from the ground, wind-blasting everything else around it before moving us slowly up towards the glacier. Unlike the rapid movement of a plane, a helicopter can move slower to allow its occupants to savor the scenery. It was like we were walking through the air, albeit underneath the blades of a huge blender. It was loud inside, but our cool walky talky headphones solved that problem. We could hear almost everything the pilot said to us as we slowly ascended through the rocky valley. We had the front 2 seats, right next to the pilot—absolutely the best seats in the house to view the amazing sheath of frozen ice sliding downhill towards the ocean.

For us, the experience was surreal. Having never been on a helicopter before, we were astonished at how close the chopper can get to a mountain side. At times it got so close that we thought we would crash onto the side of the mountain. The pilot had to take evasive action; he pulled up, just barely missed the outcrop of boulders, rode over the precipice, and plunged us down quickly on the other side, instantaneously making us lose our stomachs. It was better than any dip on a rollercoaster ride! Of course, all of this was part of the routine, but it was great, nonetheless. We circled above and around the glacier, and we snapped aerial photos of the massive ice formation below. A glacier, we learned during our trip, is actually a very slow moving river of ice. It's unbelievable to think that some sections of the glacier are moving over 3 meters (15 feet) per day, although you don't feel it while you're standing on top of it.

As we looked below, we wondered how on earth we were going to land; before we knew it, the chopper set down on top of a barely noticeable flat portion of ice, no bigger than a small dining table. We had forgotten that choppers, unlike airplanes, don't need a long landing strip. As soon as we climbed out of the helicopter, we instantly noticed how miniscule we were compared to our surroundings. Huge ridges of ice loomed over us; there were chasms, wormholes, tunnels, crevices, and caves as well. It really felt like we were in Superman's castle - all that turquoise blue everywhere. It was so amazing; we could hardly believe we were on the same planet! Even more unfathomable, still, was the fact that we were standing once over 600 feet thick.

To hike around this area, we were fully equipped with ice axes and crampons. We followed our guide like a group of penguins as he did all the hard work, cutting steps in the ice with his axe in sections that were to steep and slippery. It was a lot of fun getting up close and personal to this amazing natural formation. We slid down wormholes, climbed the walls of the crevices, squeezed in between cracks, explored caves, and crossed tunnels. Every second, we were oohing and aweing over the intricate, complex ice formations and the amazing blue color radiating from them. You only see color like this in glaciers. Nature, once again, has proven herself to be the best artist known to us. Time flew by quickly while we were exploring, and lucky for us, the sun was shining when we started. By afternoon, storm clouds began to close in on the glaciers. Rain would be inevitable. The chopper came and lifted us out, leaving a permanent impression of this experience in our hearts.

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