At eight o'clock in the morning we got a call to let us know that the heli-hiking tour was a go for that day and we got ourselves ready and were at the meeting point at 0930 sharp where we met up with 8 others who were also on the tour. Charlie (the tour guide) is an expert mountain climber and is very safety concious so he gave a thorough briefing, reminding us that a glacier is no triffle to take for granted, but rather 700 meter thick ice which is always moving and changing. He issued each of us with a safety belt and ensured we had the right footwear and cold weather gear. Then we were off to the local airport where a helicopter was waiting. We went in two groups and the helicopter ride was spectacular! The views of the glacier and the surrounding mountains were second to none, esepcially as the sky was blue and the sun bright.
Before we knew it we were disembarking onto the ice. It is hard to describe...one minute we were in the baking sun and the next we were on this unimaginably imense ice field with a cool wind blowing. It was surreal. The ice is humped and rivulets of water run over its surface in places, giving it a "wormy" look. Charlie gave us all crampons which we put on to give us traction on the ice and with a hiking pole in hand the hike began. We saw so many unusual and spectacular sights...huge cravasses that were 200 meters deep, incredibly blue "holes" on the top of the ice with clear water in them, ice caves and waterfalls spilling into crevasses and holes that disappeared into the ice right at our feet. It was incredible.
Charlie found a large crevasse with an ice cave at its end and we climbed down the side and followed the tight ice walls to the cave and then climbed in. It was very exciting. We learned that the Tasman Glacier is the largest in New Zealand and it is retreating quickly. A huge lake has formed at its teminus in the last 25 years as the ice melts and the glacier shrinks.
Paul has long wanted to ski on the Tsaman Glacier, but this was not to be as it can only happen in the winter. This hike was the next best thing and we were very privillaged to have experienced it.
After two hours of tramping on the ice the helicopter returned and we headed back. Despite having slathered on the sunblock we were both burnt, and very tired by the end. We relaxed a few minutes and then struck camp and headed out...en route for the coast just as the clouds came in and rain began. Our timing was perfect as we got the tent in before it got wet and we were well on our way by the time the rain arrived.