Heli-Hiking and Ice-Caving on Fox Glacier
Today we setting foot on one of the world’s fastest moving glaciers! We’ll have to dig our crampons deep into the ice to not get thrown off. (That’s how it works, right?)
As well as having an awesome name, Fox Glacier is the lesser-known glacier on the West Coast despite it being faster and longer! Fox Glacier Guiding have us on stand by to take us up in a helicopter for a heli-hiking adventure up on the glacier. It’s touch and go, but we get a last-minute call saying there is enough room on the helicopter for little ol’ Robin and Laura. We are stoked!
Laura just finished making the famous budget bread sandwiches (not made with love, but made with budget in mind), so we are rushing down the street from the Ivory Towers Backpackers stuffing the dry bread in our mouths.
Geared up for the glacier
We arrive just in time to be taken in the Fox Glacier Guiding bus to the helipad. From there, we are given some windproof jackets, a backpack to put them in, a pair of woolen socks and some crampon-ready boots.
Our guides are waiting for us on the ice, so we are given a helicopter safety briefing by the team at the base before we lift off. Before we get on the heli, we are put on a group weighing scale.
“Looks like you guys haven’t had lunch yet!” We give each other the shifty eyes and wipe the crumbs off our jackets…
Helicopter onto Fox Glacier
Anyway, we are so pumped to be getting up in the air once again to see this amazing glacier country from above! Although we don’t have prime position in the front of the helicopter (looks like Laura ate too many Budget bread sandwiches to sit in the front), we can still see about 180 degrees around us.
The sensational Fox Glacier Valley
Headphones on, sea belts fastened, we are ready to swoop into the air! At first we’re gliding over trees, then a braided river is revealed! We follow it all the way to the most stunning glacial valley with sharp vertical cliffs. We were so excited to get on the ice, but just the mountainous environment with snowy peaks and a valley dotted with waterfalls is just a sensational sight in itself. We’re in awe of what Fox Glacier has carved.
Landing on ice
Then here it is, the Fox Glacier! Dazzling white in the sun, it’s difficult to comprehend its size.
The helicopter comes in for landing. Two guides kneel on the ground below us covering their faces as the ice flicks at them under the wind of the propellers.
Once the craziness has stopped, a voice in our ears tells us to take off our seat belts and headphones. The guides help us out of the helicopter one-by-one.
We’re here! We’re on the Fox Glacier!
The helicopter along with its relentless chopping noise swoops off back down the valley. Now, our guides can use their voices to communicate! We have two guides, Tak from Japan who is leading the group and Tom from the UK making sure no one gets left behind.
First things first, crampons on!The team have a line of boxes on the glacier so they can select the correctly sized crampons for us.
Now that we look like badass explorers, we can start hiking on the glacier! This glacier is very misleading. At first, we feel like the glacier is pretty much even with a few cracks – kind of like giant paving slabs. We also feel like we could get anywhere on the glacier in no time, but as Tom points to a waterfall that looks not too far away, he reveals it would actually take about three hours!
And that “even paving slabs” nonsense is about to be crushed when we hit the first of many ice caves and tunnels!
Getting intimate with the ice
We peer into a tunnel about half the size of us. Water drips from many different part of the ceiling, and a rope has been put in place along one side of the tunnel. We think we know what’s about to happen and we are keen!
One by one, we grab onto the rope and dig our crampons into the slippery ice with each step. It’s so blue in here, which Tak explains shows the density of the ice.
That’s deep, bro, that’s deep
There’s more where that came from, as we follow Tak’s path which he is constantly keeping in shape with a pickaxe.
Often we have to step over thin but deep crevasses. On the first one, Tak flings some ice into the crevasse so we can hear the echoes of ice fall below us. Who knows how deep it is?
“It’s deep.” Tak says.
photos and wet asses
Fox Glacier is also photo-ops galore. Waterfalls in the distance, caves, tunnels, views of the rest of the glacier towering above us, we get plenty of time to stop for photos, the guides helping everyone out with their next Instagram post.
We come to another ice tunnel, which Laura is more eager to just slide through on her ass at the expense of her once dry pants. The water trickles down her leg, but she hardly cares when the sun is shining and she’s on top of a freakin’ glacier.
Caves are pretty common in New Zealand, but this is the first time we are stepping into an ice cave! The sun and the ice turn everything blue, even our faces, as we step inside with icy wonderland. A pool of melted ice rests at the bottom of the two caves currently facing each other – a mark of how quickly things are changing on Fox Glacier. The faster the ice melts the quicker the glacier retreats.
An icy wonderland
The first group to…
Up ahead, Tom and Tak are assessing another ice tunnel.
“Rope looks good, tunnel look solid… Ok, who’s going in first? You are the first group to go through this!” Tak says. While the rest of the group all seem a bit reluctant, Robin is always the first to get himself into the tunnel. He is our dummy to make sure it is safe.
Robin squeezes his lanky body through the tunnel making noises as he goes, then there’s a bit of a climb to get out on top and walk back to the beginning. From top, you get a great position to listen to people struggling through underneath your feet.
The most adventurous of them all
The last tunnel before we get the helicopter back to base is Tak’s favourite. We instantly see why when we peer through the entrance of a tunnel which appears to have no exit! Plus, there’s a thin crevasse halfway through! This is definitely the most adventurous of them all, which is really what this tour has been all about.
The trip is rounded up the perfect way, getting back on the helicopter and taking in as much of the views as we can on the way back to base.
We are buzzing as we take off our gear and talk about what craziness just happened on the bus back to town.
Because we want to take the time to relax, talk and take in this amazing experience on Fox Glacier, we head to a bar for a beer using the complimentary beer coupon we have each been saving since picking it up from Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. Beer tastes so much better when it feels like its been earned.
Anyway, we should probably stop our rambling (this is what happens when we have such an awesome day). Tomorrow, we are going to New Zealand’s most famous mirror lake, Lake Matheson. Join us then!
Check out the ice caves of Fox Glacier!
Check out the ice caves of Fox Glacier!
Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
Check out the ice caves of Fox Glacier! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
After all that? We are impressed! Check out these articles:
- 10 Facts You Did Not Know About New Zealand’s Glaciers
- Glacier Country – Guide for Backpackers
- 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers
See you tomorrow!