An hour and half drive on the Haast Highway from Wanaka, on our journey to (hopefully see) Fox Glacier, we visited the easily accessible Thunder Creek Falls in Mt Aspiring National Park. A 10-minute walk led us to the waterfall’s viewing platform. After all the rain we’ve been having in South Island, our rewards are the magnificent waterfalls! Thunder Creek is a tall one, at 96m!
We had a soggy stop for coffee in Haast, from a cute roadside vendor.
Refuelled, we were fascinated by the Haast Coastal Plain, which is now the most extensive wetlands area in New Zealand; it houses rare Kahikatea trees, New Zealand’s tallest, and was formed by glacial ice. Trying to imagine the scene as it was all those years ago is hard!
We love the informative, and often poetic, signs that the Kiwis display…
As the highway snaked unbelievable close to the ocean, we could see where waves had left their gifts of driftwood strewn over the road!
The glimpses of sun throughout our journey were dramatically replaced by shrouds of mist as we edged closer to Fox Glacier. For a fleeting moment, as we crossed a bridge into the township, we caught our breath with the sight of Mt Cook proudly jutting from the clouds, announcing its mighty position!
Checking into our campground, the owner gave us a couple of tips for where to get the best views of Fox Glacier, without trekking too far, and advised us to get there quick before it played hide and seek in the mist and rain!
First, we charged off to a viewpoint by Lake Matheson…
Then, we raced to the other end of the township, drove through what seemed like the middle of a prehistoric jungle, pegged it, on foot, under a canopy of interlocking trees and ferns, and finally stood awestruck as the glacier came in and out of view as ghostly clouds rendered it in and out of focus.
The big question was, will we get to fly to the glacier tomorrow?! We had booked onto a helicopter flight up there, and wanted to land on the ice. We kept everything crossed despite the unforgiving weather!
Come morning, it was like one of those drizzly, miserable and cold English spring mornings, when you hope for sunshine and warmth each day you wake up. Our 9am flight was not going ahead. Boo hoo. We were advised to visit Lake Matheson or go to Franz Joseph, 30 minutes up the road…and wait…
A walk around the Lake had to suffice, so we made the most of the still-spectacular-despite-the-weather scenery!
Half way round, the skies appeared to brighten, there were specks of blue above…as fast as our little legs could carry us, we zipped back to the car, returned to camp, and were told to hot foot it to the heli office and hope for a window of opportunity. What an adrenaline rush this was turning out to be and we hadn’t even got in a heli yet! Fox Glacier is retreating rapidly and in twenty years you may not be able to land on it. We so want to get up there!
In a queue for a flight, we were called at 11.30am. Oh my, we’re going up! But we can’t land, weather conditions aren’t right. Safety briefing completed, a short bus ride to the heli pad and we climbed into the vessel. Our faces almost cracked in two with jaw splitting smiles all round!
It wasn’t as we expected: shards of jagged ice shot up towards us, instead of the smooth surface we anticipated; an array of blues blinded us in the same way pure white snow does; and deep crevasses disappeared into an abyss far below. Our eyes were glued to the phenomenal sights around us. It was one of the most breathtaking moments of our lives. Luck was on our side, would you believe it, as we gained height, the pilot said he’d been given permission to land!!!! Stepping out under the whirr of the heli blades, onto the top of the glacier, made us feel like were in a James Bond movie!
Being able to throw some snow-ice balls up here more than made up for the fact that Lola and Albie were missing out on the rare snowfall back home!!
What an incredible day, an emotional rollercoaster ranging from severe disappointment to ecstasy! Thank you natural world for giving us the pleasure.
– The glacier was named in 1872 after a visit by then Prime Minister of New Zealand Sir William Fox.
– The glacier grinds down the Fox Valley from the high peaks of the Southern Alps.
– It is distinct in that it is one of the few glaciers to end among lush temperate rainforest, only 300m above sea level and only 12km from the Tasman Sea.
– It is the longer and the faster moving of the two famous West Coast glaciers.
– It’s fed by four alpine glaciers.
– It falls 2600 metres on its 13-kilometre journey towards the coast. Although retreating throughout most of the last 100 years, it was advancing between 1985 and 2009. Since then, there has been a significant retreat.
– It is 300 metres deep and its terminal face is just 5 kilometres from the township.