To be able to hike over something so ancient, powerful and ever-changing is an awesome and unique experience especially coming from England; a land of no mountains, no snow and certainly no glaciers. We had the option of riding a helicopter to the top but we were all on a tight budget so we chose a day hike that still let us experience the glacier to it’s fullest.
*Update for 2020* Unfortunately, you’re no longer able to hike up the glacier from the base due to safety reasons, but you can still pay to ride the helicopter up to the top if you have that kind of money sitting around.
The Glacier Hike
We started our day getting kitted out in their main office in the town of Franz Josef; waterproofs, hiking boots and crampons. We were driven out to the start of the walking track with the glacier ahead of us. What looked like a quick walk across the valley to the base of the glacier was actually a 45-minute hike across rocks and past waterfalls, with a section through the rainforest using ropes to help you navigate the muddy slopes.
As you approach the glacier you can really start to appreciate how huge it is. We split off into two groups, attached our crampons and followed our guide onto the ice. At the bottom it was dirty, mixed in with rocks and other debris from the path it had made all those years ago, but as we climbed higher the ice became clean, clear, and bright blue in some places.
As our guide told us all about the history of the glacier he probed the ice to make sure it was safe to walk on, and even carved out steps with a pickax to make our lives easier. We stopped for photos often, drank ice cold water fresh off the glacier and even found a tunnel carved out by rain that we were allowed to climb through.
The hike back down was just as fun; more steps were carved, more photos were taken and we could see the valley stretching out below us. We stopped for lunch on a flat section of the glacier to take it in the view, it really is magnificent. I can only imagine how much better it would all be if we all took the helicopter to the very top… but I think that’s all you can do now! No hiking allowed after an accident in the cave.
Back at the base of the glacier we followed our original tracks across the valley to the coach, got taken back to the main office in town to give our equipment back, and immediately bought ourselves a few beers, we felt like proper adventurers and we deserved them!
It’s an amazing thing to be able to do, maybe even a once in a lifetime experience. Looking at their website now, it seems your only choices involve a helicopter ride. It makes it very expensive, but if this day trip is anything to go by, adding the extra excitement might just be worth it. Visit their website to see for yourself.
Indoor Ice Climbing
If you want to experience ice climbing without getting to the top of a glacier first you should visit the Hukawai Indoor Ice Climbing Wall for an unforgettable experience! Your guide will kit you up and challenge you to climb progressively harder walls until you’re an ice climbing master!
You can view the full album here.