31. Get up close (and on top of) a glacier
New Zealand offers countless iconic experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world: here is No. 31 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
You might think that standing high on a mountain in the Southern Alps, all you would hear would be the wind. But you’ll become aware of a quiet creaking beneath your feet when the pilot shuts off the engine after landing onto the Tasman Glacier after a ski plane or helicopter flight. This is the constant, unstoppable force of gravity working on the massive bulk of the glacier: uncountable tonnes of compressed ice slowly but relentlessly slipping down the mountain.
The Tasman is New Zealand’s largest glacier, accessed from Mackenzie’s Aoraki/Mt Cook Airport, north of Lake Pukaki on the way to Mt Cook village. From there you can see the sharp, permanently snow-capped peak of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the highest mountain in the country, but it’s nothing compared to the views you get from the air and from the glacier itself.
Taking off, you can see the fabulous clouded turquoise of Pukaki downstream, fed by rivers threading down from the mountains. The flight path will take in the Tasman’s terminal lake, clinking with icebergs broken from the glacier’s tongue, and the awe-inspiring Hochstetter Icefall, a frozen waterfall of crevassed and shattered ice, impossibly hostile yet beautiful.
Landing on the glacier, marvel at the knowledge that there are 600 metres of solid ice beneath your feet as you stand there trying to take in and appreciate all the untouched natural beauty around you. For some, this is just the start of their experience: you can opt to ski or snowboard on the glacier, a unique experience that includes the chance to venture into ice caves along the route, before boarding for the flight back down. Or if skiing’s not your thing, explore the glacier on foot, poking into the ice caves along the way. Tandem skydives are an option, too. It’s all possible on the Tasman.
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