I'm nearly at the end of a week-long trip seeing the best of what British Columbia has to offer.

I've taken one helicopter ride, one floatplane ride, had three massages, soaked in four different spa pools and eaten more degustation menus than you can shake a stick at.

Now, I'm gearing up for a helicopter ride in Whistler, a journey to explore the ice caves below the Pemberton Ice Cap with Head-Line Mountain Holidays.

Clearly a week of luxury travel has gone to my head — I'm annoyed our chartered helicopter is taking us to the ice cap, rather than a specially set up mountainside spa, another luxury destination offered by Head-Line. That's slightly embarrassing to admit, but it's surprising how quickly a bit of pampering goes to your head.


Luckily for this bratty reporter, the ice caves are well worth forgoing another massage for. We land atop the Pemberton Ice Cap, a world of rock and snow and not much more, despite how much I try to wish a bear into our vicinity.

Tess Nichol at Pemberton Ice Cap.
Tess Nichol at Pemberton Ice Cap.

After marvelling at out tundra-like surrounds, our guide Doug Washer, Head-Line's founder and chief executive, leads us carefully down to the arched mouth of an ice cave.
It's summer, so a stream of water flowing down to the base of the cave is stronger than it would be in winter, Doug explains, and we'll need to stick to the sides.

Gazing down the cave's giant throat, I can't help but feel a little apprehensive.

What if it all collapses on top of me?

That won't happen, Doug assures me, because the ice cap ceiling of the cave is 25m-30m thick all the way down.

Pointing to the domed pattern on the ice cave's roof, Doug explains wind flow and water drips are the cause of the natural pattern.

You would think tunnelling under such a thick shelf of rock-solid ice would be claustrophobic to the extreme, but in reality it's more like entering another world.

As we make our way deeper into the cave, the bright white light of the ice cap recedes and is replaced by the luminous blue glow of the ice cave. It's like being in the belly of a giant fluorescent jellyfish.


The water roars around us, its echo magnified as it bounces off the ice walls.

The helicopter lands at the arched mouth of the ice cave.
The helicopter lands at the arched mouth of the ice cave.

It's so other-worldly I can't quite believe we're simply below the top of the ice cap, with the helicopter that flew us here sitting somewhere above.

There are so many travel destinations that I've gone to, full of expectation, only to feel let down. With this, it's the opposite.

I feel genuinely moved by this secret world, and so lucky to be able to experience it.

Bathed in a turquoise glow, I can't stop gazing up in wonder, trying to figure out how the light made it all the way down here.

Doug leads us through a labyrinth of caves, telling us about the tell-tale dips and shapes he looks for above ground when trying to find new ice caves.

Climate change is taking its toll on some of them, he says, and it's possible the cave we're in now might not be safe for tours in future.

It's a bit of a conundrum really — private helicopter rides aren't exactly helping slow that process down, but how could I not recommend going?

Doug is worried too — not only for the future of his business, but because he really loves the caves and doesn't want them to disappear.

For its part, Head-Line is spearheading an ice cap research initiative.

Tess Nichol at Pemberton Ice Caves.
Tess Nichol at Pemberton Ice Caves.


Getting there:

Air New Zealand

flies to Vancouver from Auckland.

Details: Head-Line offers ice-cave adventures.

Further information: See hellobc.com.