The excitement was palpable. We awoke in Omarama to beautiful blue skies, a small creek running past our pitch space which fed Lake Benmore and the prospect of getting onto Tasman Glacier. Most glacier excursions get cancelled due to poor weather but it wasn’t going to get cancelled today and we were so giddy that we even got up an hour earlier than we needed to!
We sped away from the campsite heading north towards Lake Pukaki and the captivating Mount Cook. Our destination was the Mount Cook airfield where we were to catch a chopper 1000 meters up the Tasman Glacier.
Mount Cook (or Aoraki in Mauri) is the tallest mountain in New Zealand standing at approximately 3,700 meters and is flanked by Mount Tasman which happens to be the second largest on the island. Within its immediate vicinity are also the renowned Fox Glacier and Frank Josef Glacier. You can toss a coin to decide which one you’d prefer to pay for an excursion on but given the weather forecast and that we wanted to then go on and spend the evening in Lake Tekapo we decided to do the Tasman Glacier.
The drive upto the airfield, I literally cannot do justice with my shit vocabulary. Its the best view I’ve ever seen. Ever. The blue of Lake Pukaki is pretty much luminous; a bright sky blue and the view of Mount Cook directly in front is irresistible. You can’t take you eyes off it. New Zealand has shit loads of snow topped mountains which create magical, enchanting, wondrous backdrops which I’ve probably already bored you about in previous posts, but Mount Cook just sort of stands slap bang in the centre of the whole range of the South Alps pissing down on all the others. It’s like the big dick of the school yard – literally head and shoulders above the rest. But it’s mysterious – In great weather it would take you a full 3 days to scale it then a couple more to get down again and there are 28 bodies unaccounted for in the Mount Cook national park who have been out trying to climb up Cook and Tasman.
We arrived at the airfield… just – I must have nearly crashed old Brucey a few times being distracted by Mount Cook’s mesmerising looks – and kitted up for our time on the ice. We had 2 guides taking us around the Glacier – Graza a 50 odd year old fella who was a lovely gent, but I have to say, approaching retirement. I think there was more chance of us saving him after an accident on the ice rather than the reverse. And Kirsten a quiet lady who had only just started working for the company, 2 hours ago. All in all, I was concerned that if the weather changed, we could be in for a dramatic few hours.
In the accompanying group was a pair of American couples, two young Chinese ladies and a Brit from Sussex called Ross. After a brief safety demonstration we divided up to fit into two helicopters and made our way up through the mountain valley to the shroodley created ‘H’ which had been carved into the ice. The helicopter ride was an experience in itself, giving yet more wonderful views of the glacier and of Mount Cook too.
The silence is deafening. The ice so bright that you have to wear shades to prevent snow blindness. The scenery quite, quite consuming. Both sides are lined with almost vertical, enormous towers of shale covered rock rising up to the peaks of mountains with the odd splash of glacier crying from the ravines between the shoulders of the Titanic towers. Along the middle of the valley is the glacier. A 100 meter thick tidal wave of ice; like waves frozen in mid-motion divided by crevasses, moolies (don’t know how they’re spelt) and streams of crystal clear water. The ice isn’t slippery – quite the opposite actually, it’s coarse and if you did slip and land on it you’d easily cut yourself. Still, if you’re exploring it you need to attach crampons to give yourself a firm footing.
Once we’d all ‘cramponed up’, Graza took us between different parts and provided us with some facts. Such as how fast they move, the numerous rocks which sit in the middle of the glacier and how the come to be, details of how the glaciers are receding, how they keep finding artefacts such as cans which are more then 30 years old which have been trapped in the ice moving down from the higher snowfields and he even once found a walking boot with a foot still in it!
After a couple of hours of walking about and admiring everything glacial it was time for the chopper to come back to pick us up. I quickly filled a plastic bottle with some glacial water – which I plan on keeping but Milly is intent on throwing away, so I’ve hidden it from her – and awaited our taxi back. As the helicopter landed it hit Milly with so much force that she was knocked back into me. I don’t think she got the health and safety memo, but she’s fine.
After a bumpy ride back we headed up to the Sir Edmond Hilary (one of the first men (and a Kiwi) to summit Everest) centre which was a bit further up the road where we had a look around and made some lunch before hitting the road and our destination for the evening, Lake Tekapo.
I’m going to be ballsy and say this was probably the best thing we’ve done whilst we’ve been away. Although it is pricey at $550 per person, I’m delighted we did it. You just can’t do it in many places in the world and I’d recommend anyone make the investment.