Day 5: Flying high
Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Fox Glacier, New Zealand
We’d picked up a brochure for the glacier helicopter flights from the motel reception when we checked in last night. The motel has a deal with one of the companies, so their prices were a little cheaper than quoted in the brochure. We looked at the flight we thought we’d like to do and worked out it would cost $760 for the three of us to do a 30 minute flight.
We ummed, we ahhed. We asked if anyone else had done it and whether it was worth it. We realised it probably something we’d never get the opportunity to do again. We agreed it would be great. But it wasn’t something we’d factored in to the holiday budget and it was a lot of money.
It looked fantastic, but we decided we couldn’t justify it, no matter how amazing it would have been.
So first thing in the morning after breakfast (about 10.30), we set off on the short drive to the Fox Glacier car park. There’s a sign a couple of kilometres back from the car park that shows where the glacier was in the 1750s. A long way from where it is now.
The walk to Fox is shorter than the walk to Franz Joseph, and we’d learned form yesterday that it wasn’t going to be cold at all, so we didn’t over-layer. Fox has the same moonscape-type landscape as Franz Joseph, and it’s a weird feeling knowing you’re walking over a landscape carved out by ice that has long since melted. It’s like a massive valley, and part-way along you can see where the path used to go. It’s since been closed off and re-routed due to a rockfall.
Although the distance to the glacier viewing point is shorter, what they don’t tell you about is the long, fairly steep climb you need to do over the last 400 metres or so to get there. It’s made all the more difficult by a lot of “No Stopping” signs in that section. (I mean do you know how hard it is to take a photo while you’re still moving over rocky terrain?)
The path goes up to 200 metres from the face of the glacier, so a bit closer than you can get to Franz Joseph, so you really don’t get to see a lot. I didn’t get the feeling it was made of ice because it was really dirty. Still the whole place is pretty surreal.
While we were there we started talking to a woman who said she’d been on the chopper ride earlier and it was totally worth the money, she told us what they’d done and seen on the 20 minute flight, (doesn’t cost $700) and we both began to doubt our earlier decision not to go. Then I remembered my Mum had given me an extremely generous early birthday present for our trip, so we decided that the flight could be my birthday present. Dilemma solved! Thank you Mum 🙂
Called in to the helicopter booking office when we got to town and they had had some cancellations, and had a flight we could potentially go on, subject to our weight being compatible with the other people who were already on the flight. Oh, and subject to the weather being OK. It had been a beautiful morning, but was clouding over and starting to look like the flights wouldn’t go ahead.
We were booked in and were told to come back closer to the flight time.
We went up the road to the glacier viewing pint (which gives you a better view of the glacier than the 30 minute walk), had lunch (the less said about that the better), bought some wine (as you do) and went back. It was still touch and go as to whether it was all going to happen, and it was going to be the pilot’s final call. After a safety briefing, we got on the shuttle bus to the helipad and were told it was all go! Hurrah!
We were with another family of three, and I got the prized front seat with the lady from the other family on the way up. It was just amazing! We flew up the glacier and landed near the top on the snow. We didn’t get the beautiful blue skies that you see in the brochures, but wow! What an wonderful experience. We got out for a few minutes and threw snowballs, took some photos and just basked in the spirit of the place, before it was time to get back into the chopper and fly around some more before heading back to Fox.
All I can say is that this was completely worth it, and I can’t believe it took us so long to make a decision. It’s cool walking up to the glaciers, but that’s nothing compared to the chopper flight. It’s expensive yes, but it’s not like you do it every day. So do it!
The weather was on the turn when we got back and they’d already told us we were the last flight of the day, so we felt very lucky to have got on that flight.
Our final activity of the day was a walk at Lake Mathieson, which we’ve seen gorgeous photos of. We could have done the 90 minute circuit around the lake, but we were tired, the weather wasn’t great for walking, and it was getting late, so we walked to the first look out, took some photos and went back. Not soon after we got back to the motel it started to rain, so it was clearly a good decision.
On the way back I realised what it’s been about the mountains that have blown me away. They just rise from nothing. There’s flat and then there’s mountain. There’s no in-between stage. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.
What a fantastic day!