Ever Set Foot on a New Zealand Glacier?
If you didn’t, you’re really missing out on something. The New Zealand glaciers Fox and Franz Josef are one of the main attractions of New Zealand and it’s really not difficult to understand why. Where on earth do you find glaciers that are so close to the sea, surrounded by rainforest, and only a few hundred metres above sea level? And to be able to even stand on them, is a truly unique experience!
Of course you could drive to these glaciers yourself, park your camper van at the bottom, and walk up to the glacier face. But we think by far the best way to take in their beauty is to admire them from above, see how they’ve carved their way into the landscape, hover above their ice pillars, and land in the snow on top of them! It will definitely be one of the highlights of your visit to New Zealand.
There are several businesses offering helicopter flights to the glaciers, from both the townships of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. We opted for Fox and Franz Josef Heliservices, a locally owned company that has been organising helicopter flights since the 1980s, and has a concession to land on the glaciers. We embarked on their Twin Glacier tour, a 30 minute flight around both the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, including a snow landing.
After a brief safety instruction (take of your caps – they might get sucked up into the blades, put on your seat belts and keep them fastened, wear your head sets – so you can hear what the pilot is saying, don’t open and close the door yourself), we were ushered inside the helicopter. And before we knew it we were off!
If you’ve never experienced a helicopter ride before, it might be a bit scary, but as George, our pilot, looked utterly relaxed and at ease, we soon forgot our worries and just enjoyed ourselves enormously, taking in the spectacular scenery.
Though we hadn’t chosen a bright, sunny day for this helicopter flight, the views of the glaciers were still awesome. Because we had left from the township of Franz Josef, we first flew up the Franz Josef glacier. There we circled around for some time and then took a right turn to head for Fox glacier, where the helicopter landed in the snow on top of it! We were allowed plenty of time to take pictures and to walk around.
On a clear day, we would have been able to see the peaks of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman from a very short distance. But even without them, the views were sensational! Both glaciers are more than 10 km in length and are still moving forward, in some places several metres a day! On our way back, the helicopter descended along Fox glacier to Fox township and back to the township of Franz Josef.
Once we had planted our feet on solid ground again, we were looking back on one of the best things we’ve done during our New Zealand camper van vacation. This is one experience not to miss. And if you have to miss it for one reason or the other (we think bad weather is the only excuse), make sure you watch the movie Flowing West in the Alpine Adventure Centre in the township of Franz Josef. Though it cannot compare with a real helicopter ride, it does give you a helicopter view of the glaciers as well!
Don’t forget your sunglasses (the snow can be blinding), wear sturdy footwear, and, most important of all: bring your camera (and make sure its batteries are full).