83. See Fox & Franz Josef Glacier on foot or by air
With a natural landscape that encompasses everything from geothermal wonderlands to magnificent fiords and glaciers – you’ll be expressing your astonishment at every turn: here is No. 83 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
The West Coast/Te Tai o Poutini of the South Island/Te Waipounamu considers itself a region apart. Long and narrow, cut off from the rest of the country by the magnificent Southern Alps, and facing the rougher side of the Tasman Sea, it’s a place of doughty people and dramatic scenery – and nothing is more awe-inspiring than its two massive glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef. They are located just eight kilometres apart, and are accessed from hospitable little towns of the same names. These glaciers flow fast, in glacial terms, carving their way down from the mountaintops, becoming long, immensely deep rivers of ice that eventually melt into chilly braided streams running through dense rainforest of tall rimu and tōtara trees.
Both glaciers are readily accessible, on foot or by air, delivering unforgettable experiences that are surprisingly do-able. You can simply walk by yourself up the moraine-scattered river bed to the terminal face of each glacier to see up close the contrasts in ice colour, the shattered frozen cliff towering high above you, and taste meltwater maybe millions of years old.
To get more hands-on, several companies offer walks up onto the ice, which crunches satisfyingly as you stamp your crampons into it for a secure grip on the steps your guide hacks out for you. You’ll get a taster of the glacier’s stunning blue ice caves, look into pools of crisp, clear meltwater, get great views back down the valley and up into the surrounding mountains, and start to appreciate the vastness of this river of ice. Even better, take a sightseeing flight up over the glaciers and mountaintops, which include Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3724 metres. The ultimate, though, is to be flown by helicopter or ski plane up to a remote part of the glacier. You can crunch over the surface, admire the stunning blues of the compressed ice, and explore tunnels, caves and arches, for half a day or longer (including overnight) ensuring an unforgettable experience.
For even more bragging rights, try Fox Glacier Guiding’s ice climbing adventure. No previous experience is needed, just a can-do attitude. Everything else is supplied, and tailored to your personal preference and ability: helicopter rides there and back, equipment, and advice and encouragement from professional guides. Imagine the exhilaration of climbing vertical ice faces, even overhangs, surrounded by nothing but pristine natural beauty of the most elemental kind.