Sometimes we have a day out or an experience which fans the flames of my passion for accessible and inclusive tourism more than others. Our helicopter flight to the Franz Josef Glacier was one of those. It was the highlight of our trip to New Zealand and again proved one person’s drive, and the willingness of others to embrace change, can make a difference to many. We are so grateful to Jezza from MakingTrax and to The Helicopter Line for finding a way for a wheelchair user to experience Franz Josef Glacier. It was the best experience of our trip.
Although we did the walk to the viewing area to see the glacier it was at quite a distance and the walk was hard work with a manual chair.
After doing the flight we believe nothing beats seeing the view of the glacier from the helicopter and getting out to appreciate it up close.
When the weather conditions allow, helicopters can be seen zipping back and forwards to the glacier throughout the day. But what made our flight different is the ski wheelchair which accompanied us, allowing BJ to get out and move around when we landed. The helicopter has been modified with a basket attached to the side to allow the skis to travel to the glacier.
THE HELICOPTER FLIGHT
Our trip was organised by adventurer Jezza, from MakingTrax. Jezza works tirelessly in New Zealand to open up access and inclusion by educating and recruiting businesses to the movement. Being a wheelchair user himself his passion is infectious and is ensuring there’s traction in the accessible tourism sector.
Knowing the area and the weather conditions well, Jezza booked what appeared to be the best day weather-wise with another day booked as a back-up for our trip. That local knowledge proved invaluable as our first flight was cancelled due to bad weather. Thankfully we woke to a stunningly clear day the next morning and our trip went ahead.
We checked in to the Helicopter Line office (recently made wheelchair accessible) to be weighed and receive our safety briefing.
Brenden (the smiling guy pictured above) accompanied us on the flight to lend assistance with access if needed.
After the weigh in and safety briefing we were ready to go. Transfers are usually provided by van but we chose to drive our hire car and park near the helipad. A gravel path led us to the helicopter and we were again happy to have BJ’s off-road tyres on. A power chair would make access easier as the path is a little steep.
Brendan had the Makingtrax ski-chair ready to go with us.
It may seem like an amazingly simple piece of equipment but the freedom and access it provided was enormous. The ski-chair ensured BJ was included and able to be active once we landed. Before the chair was available, passengers travelling with a disability or mobility restriction stayed in the helicopter the whole time.
On landing, Mike our helicopter pilot and Brenden swiftly put the chair together and it was ready for BJ to transfer to in minutes.
Watching Hubby and BJ zip around the glacier is a holiday memory I’ll never forget. Just look at that smile.
The ski-chair made the trip an interactive one for the whole family.
A flight over the glacier without landing would have been beautiful but being able to get out and enjoy the glacier together took the trip to another level.
BJ is able to do a standing transfer so was able to assist with getting in and out of the helicopter.
The Helicopter Line staff are willing to assist with accessing the helicopter but there is a weight limit of 95kgs.
The ski-chair does not have a belt so if you are travelling with someone who needs this I suggest discussing it with Jezza from MakingTrax or the staff at The Helicopter Line. We were told the reason the chair does not have a belt is if the ski-chair was out of control (so unlikely so don’t freak out reading this) the person could throw themselves out of the chair.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
There’s a shed near the helipad to store a wheelchair while you are on the flight.
A weight limit of 95kg is necessary as guests with a disability need to be lifted into the helicopter. Staff will assist where possible.
The weather in Franz Josef is unpredictable. We were told 50% of flights are cancelled due to weather. We had 3 nights in Franz Josef to give us the best chance of getting a fine day to make the trip to the glacier.
Selfie sticks, GoPro sticks and iPads are not allowed in the helicopter. And you can’t take bags on the trip. This is a minimalist experience.
All you need is a camera, sunglasses for the glare, enclosed footwear and a jacket. It’s generally only a few degrees cooler than in town so don’t go dressed like the Michelin man or you’ll be uncomfortable.
Your weight won’t be yelled out for the world to hear but will be displayed on your wrist band for the flight so if you need incentive to lose weight before your holiday, there it is!
You need to book in advance to ensure the availability of the ski-chair.
If you want to improve your chance of getting great photos, wear dark clothing for the flight to lessen the reflection on the windows.
An accessible bathroom is available at the Helicopter Line office for any last minute visits.
You can read more about the trip we took to Franz Josef Glacier here.
We paid in full for our helicopter flight and would do it again in a heartbeat. This is a stand-out experience, not only on this trip but in our travels over the years. We can’t recommend it highly enough.