Up, up and away

The helipad up the glacier.
My father looked like a tiny dot on the wide icy landscape as I watched him from atop the Franz Josef Glacier. Having walked briefly, he had opted out of our two hour hike to these breathtaking ice capped mountains on the West Coast of Southern New Zealand, after a warning from his knees. However, for him, the adventure lay in keeping himself warm during those two hours apart from the thriller of a helicopter ride, which had landed us to a safe ‘guided’ spot on the glacier before we began the trek.

Franz Josef is a sleepy little town at the base of a 12km long glacier by the same name, situated in New Zealand’s South Island. With a handful of motels and restaurants, this lesser known tourist destination offers some exciting glacier adventure, mainly a 15 minute helicopter ride which drops one amidst the lofty peaks of the glacier followed by a short hiking tour up the mountains.

Our hiking group.
“Here’s my bottle of water. Keep sipping on it and keep moving. Don’t stand still,” instructed Sam – our guide from Darjeeling – to my father after learning about his decision to stay back. His words ran through my head as I tried to magnify the little black dot on the white canvas through my camera lens. “Can you see him?” one of my six fellow hikers asked, waving out hard to the lone adventurer. I waved out too while casting a glance at the surreal beauty of the glacier. It was one of the many picture-perfect frames that New Zealand is made up of. A cover of glittering blue on a colony of small ice boxes, the misty ice laden mountain tips, the marvellous formations of rock like ice by the architect above... and moreover, the exhilarating feeling of the sky appearing to be just at an arm’s distance.

As my German friend and I gazed at the scenery, Sam called out to turn and look on the other side. It was an avalanche! A mini one though, for viewing purposes rather than a catastrophe. Nevertheless, it was a sign to return.

“You guys are a quiet lot. No questions at all,” our guide cum axeman complained. He had paved the way for our last leg of the trek. We climbed down, carefully placing our pair of crampons in the spaces dug up by Sam. Not relying on us to ask for any information, he shared how these glaciers have retreated rapidly in the last five years and if they continue to at a similar rate, there would be no glaciers in the next 50 years.

The lone adventurer amidst the icy landscape.
I could see dad waving at us frantically now. A drop of sweat trickled down my forehead. The rigorous walk up the glacier had indeed overpowered the freezing weather and made us warmer. “Are you cold? What did you do all this while?” I enquired as soon as we approached dad. “I prayed. It feels so close to God here,” he answered with a serene smile.

Coming closest to nature is coming closest to the maker, I fancied as we hopped on to the chopper to take us back to civilisation.


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