There aren’t many places in the world that remain untouched. Sure, NYC skyscrapers can make you break out into ‘Empire State of Mind’. Remnants of the ancient past speak of humanities achievements – the good and the ugly. But mother nature, nothing beats the power of mother nature. The pristine beauty of glacial carved valleys, the grandeur of majestic snow-capped mountains, all jaw-droppingly beautiful. It’s why the South Island of New Zealand is one of my favourite places in the world. Yes, I’m a little bit biased being a Lord of the Rings fan, but it’s so much more than merry Gandalf and the hobbits. If pristine untouched beauty is what you’re after, visiting New Zealand’s glaciers is the ultimate dream come true. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Fox Glacier.
Fox Glacier is located within Westland National Park, a region abundant with high mountains and glaciers. With global warming and natural advancement, Fox glacier is quickly subsiding at a rate of 1 metre a year. It may not seem much, but the terminal face of the glacier has pretty much collapsed. Parts of the glacier that were accessible in the past, are no longer safe. Franz Josef Glacier is also nearby for a similar experience, but Fox Glacier has less crowds due to its inaccessibility.
Seeing the Glacier
There are two options to see the glacier.
- Lower Ice fall hike – The first option is to take a hike to the lower icefall, alongside the temperature rainforest and fox river. To be honest, the lower icefall is rather sludgy and dirty and a disappointing viewpoint of Fox Glacier.
- Heli-hike – For a truly spectacular viewing of Fox Glacier, I recommend taking a Heli-hike onto the upper icefall. This was my favourite experience in New Zealand, and who doesn’t like a helicopter ride? Experienced guides with their manly pick axes, will take small groups at a time to the upper icefall, where the ice is pristine and brilliantly blue.
Cost: $399 NZD
The cost is steep, but it is a once in a lifetime experience. I would rank this as one the best things I’ve ever done! If you can’t part with your wallet while travelling, you might as well not travel at all!
The Heli- Hike
We joined the friendly folks at Fox Glacier Guiding for a professionally guided hike. The tour starts off doing the obligatory weigh-ins and disclaimers. You will be provided with sturdy boots, thick socks and a backpack. A mini-van will then take you to the helicopter base and you’re ready for an amazing adventure! Your pilot will fly over the lower and upper icefalls, providing a unique vantage point like no other. In groups of four, you will slowly disembark the helicopter and you will be promptly provided with crampons i.e ice cleats tied around your boots, that allow you to walk on the ice. You didn’t think you would be walking on a glacier with normal boots did you ;)?[/vc_column_text]
Your experienced guide will carve out a safe route for you to walk on. Just follow the leader and I mean FOLLOW the leader. Never, ever walk away from the group. Ice can be exceptionally deceiving, the strength and integrity often unknown. In terms of length – the hike lasts for approximately 4-5 hours at a relaxed pace, nothing too strenuous.
Now for the really fun part! Your guide will walk you through incredible ice cave formations, showing you towering pinnacles of ice and deep ice crevasses. The opportunity to walk through an ice cave is a rare and exciting experience. The pristine blue of the ice caves is beyond captivating. Sections of the ice caves are claustrophobically narrow, with mini-streams of melted glacial water underneath. At times, you will find yourself squeezing between narrow walls, sliding your derriere against the ice to fit through. Be sure to pack waterproof clothing!
The sign of human presence is kept minimal on Fox Glacier. Guides have planted ropes here and there to help hikers conquer the icy terrain. Pick axes have also been used to carve temporary ‘stairs’. This allows hikers to climb down into big crevasses, to view mini-glacial waterfalls and streams. Feel free to capture the water in your bottle, you will never taste water as pure or clean.
After 4 hours of exploration, the helicopter will take you back to base. Grasp the fact, that you have been standing on a moving surface, formed through millions of years of geological movement, kinda mind blowing isn’t it? The guys at Fox Glacier Guiding, know how to create a memorable experience. Book this tour, I promise you no regrets.
- Bring sunglasses. On a sunny day, the reflection of the sun’s rays against the white, can be glaringly distracting.
- Wear waterproof clothing. Definitely no denim.
- Wear warm clothing, but not too much. In summer, it can get quite hot.
- Bring a water bottle, to drink some of that glacial water.
- Bring your camera for stunning shots. These were taken with a crappy Digital camera, imagine what you could do with an SLR.
- Follow your guide like a hawk.
- Have an amazing time!!