November 2017: Walking on ice

Summer is on its way to New Zealand, but there is some ice here that never melts.

Fox Glacier
On the West Coast of the South Island, there are glacial giants that have been around for thousands of years.
While glaciers around the world can be harder to get to, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers still flow almost to sea level. The temperate climate at this low altitude means these glaciers are among the most accessible in the world.

Visiting the glaciers

Your clients can enjoy the glaciers from afar, take a short walk up to their terminal face, or step foot on the ice by means of a scenic helicopter ride.
Two main companies offer a range of glacier hiking tours and experiences that will get your clients up close to the ice.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides

The Glacier Valley Walk will take them up alongside the mighty Waiho River bed, following the glacier's path through the landscape. Near the terminal face, after a brief climb you clients will be rewarded with spectacular views of the glacier’s rapidly changing terminal face. Suitable for all abilities.
The Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike tour is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After a scenic flight high above the rugged terrain, your clients will land on the glacier for a three-hour guided hike across the ice. They will follow the guide through some of the world’s most pristine glacial scenery – spectacular ice formations, extraordinary towering peaks and glistening blue ice.

Those clients looking for something a bit more extreme might want to try the Heli Ice Climb. Under the tuition of some of New Zealand’s most experienced ice climbers, your clients will learn the skills and techniques they need to carefully and comfortably climb the glacier. No experience necessary but good fitness required.

Fox Glacier Guides

Ideal for families or those with lower fitness, the Fox Trail: Terminal Face Walk takes visitors on an informative and leisurely walk up the Fox Valley to a viewpoint where they can see the dynamic face of the Fox Glacier.
The fly-in, fly-out The Flying Fox: Heli Hike combines the excitement of walking on the Fox Glacier with the thrill of helicopter flights. By flying in you can access and explore a part of the glacier where its forces work hardest and often create spectacular ice caves and arches. For those clients wanting to spend more time on the ice, the Extreme Fox: All Day Heli Hike allows them to spend 6 hours, during which they might climb and abseil down ice walls, or ascend short ice pitches, using ice axe and crampon climbing techniques.
This day long experience of the Fox It Up: Heli Ice Climbing introduces the adventurous to the exhilarating sport of ice climbing, on the spectacular ice walls in the upper part of the Fox Glacier. A professional guide will tailor the day to offer variety and challenge to the novice and expert alike.

Tips for agents:

The weather can occasionally be fickle on the West Coast and helicopter operators will always put safety first. 

Make sure you have a few back up suggestions if your clients’ heli-hike is cancelled due to poor weather conditions.
A couple of great options in Franz Josef village are:

The all-weather West Coast Wildlife Centre, where your clients can take a self-guided tour of the indoor attraction and see Rowi kiwi birds, or go behind the scenes to get a first-hand look at the centre’s kiwi hatching and incubation programme (they might see a chick or two if they are lucky!). They have also recently added a tuatara encounter experience, where visitors can see this unique lizard-like reptile up close.
Nestled in lush rainforest, the Glacier Hot Pools are a perfect place for your clients to warm up in cooler weather. Private pools are available, as are spa treatments and massages.
Alternatively, why not suggest they take the short walk to Lake Matheson, just 5km from Fox Glacier. This 2.6km loop is a gentle walk that leads to views of the mountains reflected on the still waters of Lake Matheson.

Getting there

A scenic way to arrive on the West Coast is via the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth.

Starting in the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, the railway traverses the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River.

The train then climbs into the majestic Southern Alps to Arthurs Pass National Park, before descending through lush beech rainforest to the West Coast town of Greymouth.

Alternatively, your clients can fly into Hokitika with Air New Zealand and drive south to the glaciers.