At just 20, Zack Letteux is a seasoned hand at guiding daylong expeditions on New Zealand's breathtaking but potentially dangerous glaciers, where a single misstep can send a climber plummeting into a crevasse of ice, snow and rocks. "We lost a couple of people this season already," he says, referring to those who decided to take on the glacier alone and died.
With the help of guides like Letteux however, it's possible to safely enjoy the exquisite beauty of these ancient, frozen rivers, their icy blue splendor glowing in the southern hemisphere's brilliant summer sun. New Zealand has hundreds of glaciers that meander imperceptibly slowly through valleys flanked by craggy, snow-covered peaks. During summer they retreat and split in sections to create ever-changing, climbable ice sculptures. In winter, snow and ice from distant peaks bind and push the masses forward inch by inch.
All treks require that you be in decent physical shape and supply your own food, water and warm clothing. (Outfitters will provide you with climbing gear and waterproof pants and a jacket.) The Franz Josef Glacier located near the tourist hamlet on New Zealand's southern island that shares its name is a popular stop for both novices and experienced glacier enthusiasts. There, guides will take you on a half- or full-day exploration of this ice flow that the Maori call Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (The Tears of Hinehukatere), after a local legend about a woman who lost her lover while climbing in the mountains, her frozen tears forming the glacier. Tours leave daily from town and can be booked in advance with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, franzjosefglacier.com.
Nearby on the South Island's west coast is the Fox Glacier. Since 1928, guided tours have been available on this nearly 13-km ice mass that starts more than 2,700 m up in the mountains. On a clear day, the nearby peaks of Aoraki (also known as Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman are visible to climbers who opt for heli-hiking, which takes you by helicopter farther up the glacier than any day hiker can reach and deposits you on the ice. Book your tour with Fox Glacier Guiding, foxguides.co.nz.
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