We drove up to Franz from Arrowtown, having booked a 3hr ice explorer trip at the Heartlands Info Centre in Queenstown for £320 for the two of us. Not cheap, but it included a helicopter ride on and off the glacier (it isn't accessible on foot) and the tour turned out to be fabulous and well worth the money. It'll be a really lasting memory of our time in New Zealand. We were kitted up (boots, thick socks, waterproof trousers, a heavy waterproof jacket, gloves and a small bag) and briefed on how to fit our crampons and how to board and exit the helicopter. The flight itself was short but scenic and we moved from the aircraft to a flat area of ice to fit our crampons. Our guide, an English guy called Milo, led us up onto the ice, telling us how to best plant our feet for maximum purchase. We were used to the crampons in a few minutes and I never felt unsafe. We explored ice caverns and caves (I was feeling brave and went through one I had to pull myself into on a rope on my belly and then shift into a crouch/crawl to get through the 10m cave. Scary, but exhilarating - only half the group did it but there was no pressure at all. There was a cave we could all walk through later, which was beautiful. The remarkable blue and brown and white striated ice was mesmerising. A camera was an absolute must. The ice cliffs got more and more dramatic as we ascended, and Milo explained the features we saw, including pointing out the line on the rocky cliffs behind that marked where the glacier had been in 2007. The ice moves down the valley by about 1m a day, so it is constantly changing and caves there one climb may well not be there the next - the guides go up and check each day. We were led through a narrow ice crevasse (breathing in!) and shown a gorgeous blue ice archway (it's blue as it refracts the light). The tour was interesting, informative and very beautiful - we loved it and were so pleased we went (even though I had previously visited a glacier in Norway). The pace also meant it was suitable for all-comers and I had time to snap away with my camera.
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