Many years ago we spent a week cycling the Tekapo Canals. The guided trip took us to Aoraki Mount Cook where we spent a night at the Heritage Hotel. The afternoon sky was cloudless so we made an impulsive decision to take a helicopter up the Tasman Glacier. From the braided turquoise strands of the thaw we flew up the valley landing high on the ice.
The vastness of the Tasman Glacier became imprinted on my mind. Last winter I retraced my steps, but this time on skis.
I’m not a great skier. In fact, I hate skiing off piste. However, I do still have a sense of adventure and really wanted to ski the glacier, advertised as easy!
So the day arrived and the weather forecast was magnificent. I was nervous, but kind friends who had previously skied the glacier were reassuring. We left Arrowtown early, heading west, stopping at the legendary Wrinkly Rams Cafe, in Omarama. Here, I enjoyed coffee and an oversized sausage roll, fearful of having enough energy for this expedition!
Arriving at the small airport just down the road from the Heritage Hotel, we met Charlie Hobbs. Charlie is the Chief Guide and Owner of Southern Alps Guiding. He holds the highest international certification for mountain & ski guiding. I felt in good hands with his 35 years of guiding experience and detailed knowledge of the glacier.
After fitting our boots to fat powder skis, Charlie gave us a safety briefing. We were given a GPS device and harness to wear, in the unlikely event of an avalanche or disappearing down a crevass.
Then it was time to load up the plane and head to the glacier. Squashed in like sardines, we had skis wedged between our legs with little room to move.
Fifteen minutes later we landed on the ice, skidding to a stop with a little tail spin. The plane, looked like something out of WWI, with a lick of red and orange paint so it could be spotted in a blizzard.
All geared up and ready to head down the glacier, Charlie explained the importance of avoiding the crevasses. He urged us to ski no more than two bus lengths, from his tracks.
The Tasman Glacier is 29km long and flows among the highest mountains in New Zealand. The easy gradient made for relaxed skiing, leaving our tracks in the virgin powder.
On route Charlie pointed out places of interest including the peaks, crevasses and glacial canyons. We stopped many times to admire the ice formations and caves.
Ready for a break we stopped for lunch after the first 10 kilometre run. Filled rolls and fruit were provided by Charlie. Basking in the sun, we devoured them.
Then, it was time to board the plane again and head back up the glacier for our second 10 kilometre run. Charlie took us down another part of the glacier before stopping at these impressive ice caves. Inside it was cool and airy and the ice was surprisingly dry to touch.
After the caves, we meandered down the valley at our own pace, enjoying making our own tracks.
Before we knew it we had skiied another 10 kilometres and the plane was waiting for us on the valley floor. The pilot scooped us up and took us and take it back to civilisation.
Back at the Hermitage we enjoyed a well earned gin and tonic, as we savoured the moment and relected on our stunning day in the wilderness of the Tasman Glacier.