Franz Josef - Falling and Climbing Over Franz
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
From Queenstown we drove to the Franz Josef Glacier, with a night pitstop at Lake Wanaka.
We were due to do a skydive over Franz Josef the afternoon we arrived, but the rain was pouring. Instead, we spent the afternoon in a hot pool and got rebooked onto a skydive at 7.30 the next morning,
So this morning we were up before the sun was, keen to see a clear blue sky. Hooray! As the sky turned lighter, there were no clouds in sight. A minibus picked us up from town and took us to the Franz Josef airfield where we got suited up. There were a group of friendly (crazy) Chinese with us, 4 of which were also doing a jump.
Max was interviewed for his instructor cam video and then loaded into the tiny Skydive Franz yellow propellor plane, right by the door. The plane was very cosy with 3 jumpers, their instructors, and 3 camera guys sitting on the floor. The plane climbed higher and higher into the sky for 16 minutes. The views were incredible - from one side of the plane you could see the Tasman sea, below there were fields and a rainforest, and to the other side you could see the Franz Josef glacier, Mount Cook (New Zealand's largest mountain) and even the mountains on the west coast.
On the way up, we were given oxygen at about 12,000 feet and you sit in the instructors lap while they strap you to them. When the plane reached 16,000 feet, it was time to go! Max was first out of the first plane. The instructor slid the door open, Max swung his legs around, crossed his arms, head back and whoosh!
Falling at an insane speed, the feeling is immense. It's totally different from the free fall sensation in bungy jumping, it feels more like freedom, like you're flying. We had 65 seconds of free fall and the views were breathtaking. The bright morning sun shone over the sea and the mountains. It was cool to see Franz Josef from above.
Once Max had landed safely on his butt, it was Steph's turn to go up in the second plane. Surely there could be no-where more beautiful to do your first skydive at 16,000 feet? What a great way to wake up! Steph was also first out of the plane. The skydive was in no way as nerve racking or terrifying as the Nevis bungy jump - that was on another level entirely. But nerves did kick in when the realisation came around that the plane door would be opening, and out we would go. Yet it all happens so fast and soon enough, you're just enjoying the fall.
Having achieved our adrenaline kick for the day and gotten to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand in the best way possible, we decided to hike up the glacier we had just seen from above.
An hour later, we got on the kit provided by the Franz Josef guides, including over trousers, boots and a raincoat. In the past four years the Franz Josef glacier has retreated so much that it is no longer safe to enter the glacier on foot from the bottom. Helicopter is the only way to get to it! It was a 4 minute helicopter trip from the rainforest up to the ice. The views could never get boring, nor could riding in a chopper.
When we got on the ice, we had to put our crampons on (spikes that go on your boots to dig in the ice). We had 3 hours on the ice following our guide through crevices, caves and over compressions. The glacier is very menacing; multiple times you heard a huge noise like a house falling down, you'd look round and ice and rocks would be falling from the highest point. It was interesting learning about the ice formations and marvelling at the glorious blue colour of the ice. The glacier stretches for about 10km, but we only explored the first 2km before the ice gets too unstable. We had a drink from some of the fresh running water on the glacier - better than bottled by far!
What a day! Skydive Franz at 16,000 feet, check. Hike over Franz, check.
Steph and Max x