Helicopters and Glacier Hiking (December 26, 2011)

Monday, December 26, 2011
Merry Christmas (USA) and Happy Boxing Day!

Kris and I woke up late today and had a leisurely breakfast and lunch while waiting for our 11:45am courtesy pickup for our Heli-Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier.
View from camp
After signing the customary forms, 11 of us went along to get outfitted with boots, crampons, and waterproof jackets for the helicopter ride and two hour glacier hike. I wore a size 3 boot (and thought they were a bit loose). Kris wore size 11 boots.
Our crampons
It was a gorgeous day. The sky was relatively cloudless making for great views of the mountain/glacier. The first helicopter ride was a group of 5 - father and son from Auckland, student traveler from Germany, and a couple from Spain. Our helicopter of 6 was filled with Kris and I plus a group of four from Paris, France. (They smoked while on the glacier and took photos with their iPhones. I don't understand why you would bring either on a glacier hike.)
Our helicopter
The tour guides put you on the helicopter based on weight, so neither Kris nor I got front. However, Kris got a window seat on the way, and I got it the way back. (Regardless of seating arrangements...I got to ride in a helicopter today!!!)
In the helicopter
In the helicopter
In the helicopter
Right after landing

After landing, we met our glacier guide, Nick from the UK. He was an adventurous spirit who could wield an impressive pickaxe.
Our pickaxe wielding guide, Nick
Kris amongst the glacier
The glacier hike was really hard work for me. Everyone else on the trip seemed to have no issues, but I worked my tail off to keep up with everyone. The views were gorgeous and well worth the effort, but I found this excursion to be a laborious experience.

Part of the Franz Josef Glacier

The most enjoyable part, other than the helicopter ride there and back, was sliding through the ice caves. Kris and I both went through the first one...not everyone did. I intended to go in gracefully, but my body had other ideas. I wound up sliding backwards.
Kristy sliding through the ice cave
One later cave had everyone really using the crampons to maneuver through the hole. I knew I was likely to stab myself with the crampon if I tried, so I just slid through it on my bum. It led to a cold and wet rear-end, but I didn't give myself any impromptu piercings.

Yup...we went through this ice cave.  I think it looks like Mickey Mouse.
Kris had no trouble on the ice.
Kristy rockin' the crampons
The crampons are miraculous contraptions that are surprisingly easy to put on. They are spiky metal additions for your snow boots, and they really do make getting around on the glacier possible. I managed, somehow, not to fall on this trip. I'm still shocked. (Maybe I should wear crampons permanently?) One of the Parisian ladies did fall...and it appeared to hurt.

After we went a bit up the glacier, Nick stopped us to ask how we were finding the trail. I'm huffing and puffing at this point, and the French group say "easy". EASY?!? I was scared half to death of them making what I was already finding challenging worse and had to chime in and tell Nick that I was not finding it easy. I didn't want to hold anyone back, but a person can only do what they can do. Later I asked Kris how he had been feeling the course had been up to that point. He said, "easy."

You should have seen Kris traversing that glacier. He was running and jumping like it was a smooth path. I got somewhat jealous of his sure-footedness. I just hate being a klutz. But I did it. I completed the trail made for us by Nick. I climbed up, down, and through the glacier. I dug those crampons in like a champ. And I didn't fall!

Kris drinks from a glacier stream
During the trip, we chatted with the father from Auckland (in the oil and gas industry and has spent a lot of time in San Antonio) and Benedict (college student from Germany), and we got photos of each other to exchange later through email...including the always fun New Zealand jumping shot. They were really nice guys.
Kris does a jumping shot on the glacier - without crampons
Our new friend Benedict
Franz Josef Glacier
Helicopter coming in for a landing
On our final helicopter flight
After arriving back to the camp, we stopped at the town Four Square grocery store for soda and candy bars to commemorate our victory. We opted to walk back to camp rather than hitch the courtesy shuttle.
Sculptures in town
We loaded up the car after arriving back and headed to town to visit the Kiwi Wildlife Center. They have great informative displays about the kiwi and they have several baby kiwi on display. The display is rather dark, as the kiwi are nocturnal flightless birds, and they have replicated their natural environment as much as possible.

The kiwi were being quite active when we went through, and we could see them all. Some were seemingly hunting for food, one looked like it was grooming, and another was getting in and out of their water bowl.

It was a nice stop with a lot of information about the local birds.

We were able to stay parked in their lot to walk to dinner. We chose to eat at the Plump Pigeon for dinner. While pricey, our dinners were fantastic! I got the chicken kiev and was really sad when I finished. Kris got the ribeye steak with polenta fries and several huge mushrooms. He really enjoyed them. Others seemed to be enjoying their hamburgers, mussels, and fish and chips quite a bit as well. Best meal of our trip thus far. I would love to eat that meal again.

A trip to the Glacier Hot Pools came complementary with our heli-hike. This facility has three public hot tubs of varying heat set in a natural environment. We spent time soaking in the 40 degrees Celsius and 36 degrees Celsius pools. Toward the end of our soak, I struck up a conversation with a well traveled Kiwi teacher. We compared the USA and NZ ("N Zed" according to locals) school systems. Our students don't know how cushy they have it. School only...no extracurriculars. Parents pay for students to do after school activities of varying types...including sports.
Glacier Hot Pools
Glacier Hot Pools
The hot pools were good for my aching muscles, and now I must call it an evening. We have an early tomorrow.

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1 Response
  1. marlene Says:

    Ok, and there is still stuff you didn't get to do??? It sure appears as if you did it all..and in style :)