Having recently returned to New Zealand, we knew there was one final bucket-list activity that we just had to try – taking to the ice on a Franz Josef heli hike whilst we visited the West Coast.
We’d seen the photos. We’d heard people rave about their experiences. I’d dreamed of walking on a glacier for years.
Could it really be as good as we’d hoped for though?
As we found out for ourselves – one thousand times, yes!
Why a Franz Josef Heli Hike is a Must-Do in New Zealand
With towering crevasses made of iridescent ice and glacial views stretching on and on, the scenery from the ice are just as impressive as the ones from the helicopter!
Though I went expecting a real adventure, it was the beauty and power of the ice that really blew me away. With countless shades of blue and white, I’m now sure the glacial ice is one of the most stunning parts of Mother Nature.
Adventure-Packed & Adrenaline-Filled
It’s not entirely surprising to hear that a Franz Josef heli hike is a recipe for excitement! With gaping canyon-like crevasses to skip past, tight ice caves to squeeze through and steep slopes to clamber down from, your heart is sure to race a few times.
Don’t worry though – you’ll have an amazing guide with you every step of the way and, should the course push you a little too far out of your comfort zone, there are always alternate routes available.
Where else can you get a ride in a helicopter over a glacier surrounded by native, temperate rainforest, a guided ice hike (with up to three hours on the glacier itself), all of the gear you’ll need and an invitation to warm up in stunning hot pools after your adventure?
Am I Fit Enough for a Glacier Heli Hike?
If you’re relatively active in your travels then you are almost certainly up to the challenge of a heli hike.
Though the terrain up on the glacier is constantly changing, you’ll be equipped with all of the gear you need to successfully take it on.
With a skilled and highly-trained guide, you’ll be clued up before hitting the ice and will be constantly reminded of the perfect ice-hiking form to aim for. Your guide will also carry an ice pick with them, allowing them to carve out steps and pathways at certain points on the trip.
Occasionally you’ll be required to climb up or down relatively steep slopes and stairs (in short bursts) but with crampons holding you in place and a trekking pole to help steady you, you won’t require any more than an average level of fitness.
You’ll be on the ice for approximately three hours (so should be able to hike for that period of time) but in reality, your group will take lots of stops (to snap that perfect photo) and you’ll move at a pace that suits the slowest in the group.
After all, your time up on the ice is to be enjoyed so slow and steady wins the race whilst up on the glacier!
Am I Brave Enough?
With patient guides and supportive team-mates, if you’ve got the will then you’ll find a way.
Some of the spaces that you’ll traverse through are narrow (keep shuffling your feet along in the ice, kind of narrow) but even the two claustrophobic girls in our team managed to make it through.
If you’re afraid of heights, there’s also not too much to worry about. You’ll need to make it through the heli ride there and back but once up on the ice, it’s very seldom that you look down from a height (beyond what you’d expect on a normal staircase).
The majority of the ice hike is completed out in the open (or close to) and there are alternative routes in almost all cases, so should you really be pushed out of your comfort zone, you won’t find yourself stuck for long.
Sorting Your Gear Out…
What You’ll Be Supplied With on Your Franz Josef Heli Hike
Though you’ll need to bring some of your own gear to keep warm whilst on the glacier, all waterproof clothing and technical gear will be provided to you by Franz Josef Glacier Guides at no additional cost. These include the following:
- A trekking pole
- A beanie
- A waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Woollen socks
- A gear bag to store any essentials you want to take onto the ice.
What You’ll Need to Take With You to Check-In
- A merino (or polypropylene) top
- Long pants (tracksuits or leggings are fine – no jeans)
- A camera/phone/GoPro
- Sunblock (which is also supplied onsite)
- If you really feel the cold (or it’s the middle of winter), you may also like a pair of merino bottoms
- A beanie and gloves if you’d prefer to use your own
- A small water bottle and snack – none of our group took these up and we were fine.
Nathan and I have been fortunate to have taken on a great deal of adventure activities but with an amazing combination of nature, views and adrenaline, we recon it’s hard to beat a heli ice hike.
Without doubt, this is a must-do activity on your New Zealand itinerary!
Looking for adventure in the South Island? Pin this post!
Thank you to West Coast NZ for arranging our tour of the Coast. As always, all thoughts are our own.