(800) 523-5842

 


– DEAL$
& SPECIAL OFFERS

 

HOT TRAVEL BARGAINS!

 

GET BARGAIN ALERTS

 

IN$TANT DI$COUNT$

 

GET A FREE PROPOSAL!

 

GET A FREE CATALOG

 

-2017-
DESTINATIONS

MANY PRICES STILL WELL
BELOW 8 YEARS AGO!

 

BRITAIN &

IRELAND

 

SCOTLAND
DARE TO COMPARE!

2017 PRICES

IRELAND

DARE TO COMPARE!

CALL 4 2017 PRICES

LONDON

DARE TO COMPARE!

2017 PRICES

ENGLAND
'THE LIONHEART'

2017 PRICES

WALES
'THE PENDRAGON'

2017 PRICES


 
 

PARIS

'LA BELLE'

 

2017 PRICES
DARE TO COMPARE!

PARIS + LONDON

 

 

NEW!

SWI+ZERLAND

6 special regions

2017 PRICES
DARE TO COMPARE!


 

 YOUR DREAM TRIP!  

CUSTOM-MADE

 EUROPE 

FRANCE

GERMANY

ITALY

NETHERLANDS

SPAIN

SWITZERLAND

 

 

bermuda

A PRETTY PLACE PLUS

2017 PRICES
LOWER PRICES AGAIN!


 

HOT!

ICELAND

2017 PRICES

COMBINED

ITINERARIES

 

 

SCANDINAVIA

THE GREAT NORTH

2017 PRICES
WOW! UP TO 14.54% BELOW 2009 LEVELS!

NORWAY

 

SWEDEN

 

DENMARK

 

COMBINED

ITINERARIES

 

 

NEW

ZEALAND

ROAD TRIP!

2017 PRICES
 WOW! UP TO 9.64% BELOW 2009 LEVELS!

NORTH ISLAND

 

SOUTH ISLAND

 

 
CURRENTLY
FEATURED @
HOMEATFIRST.COM
 

EDITOR'S BLOG

 

ADVENTURE

 

PEOPLE

 

GOLF COURSE

 

LODGING

 

EVENTS CALENDAR

 

 
HOME AT FIRST
 

CONTACT INFO

USA & CANADA
(800) 523-5842

WORLDWIDE
+1 610 543 4348

info@homeatfirst.com
 


-
HOME AT FIRST'S-

NEW ZEALAND

Glacier Hiking in the

Southern Alps

FOX GLACIER WESTLAND SOUTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND

Photo Gareth Eyres - NZ Tourism
 

New Zealand's got better rides than a theme park.
            Over the years I’ve walked glaciers in various parts of the Swiss and Austrian Alps, but until recently I had never been on the vertical parts, tip-toeing among the crevasses, pillars and ice caves. But last March I visited this world — on the West Coast of New Zealand’s longest and most accessible river of ice, the Fox Glacier. I joined about a dozen other folks of all ages — most with no prior glacier or mountaineering experience — for an improbable 3-hour hike in the remote middle of this slowly moving, grinding, cracking ice flow.

Photo Location: about a mile up, and within sight of 10,000’ high snowcaps and the Tasman Sea, the ocean that separates the West Coast of New Zealand from Australia, 1,000 miles to the west.

Photos in this article © Home At First, except where otherwise credited.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN AUTUMN, 2001.                        MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

GETTING THERE

          The morning began under luxurious coverlets at Home At First’s very popular Westland Lodge (sadly, now defunct) about an hour north of Fox Glacier. Climbing out of bed was easy, though — the promise of hosts Grant and Bev Muir’s famous breakfast was an inspiration that made my stomach talk.

          I would have enjoyed luxuriating an extra day in the care of this extraordinary New Zealand couple, who somehow manage to find time to be perfect hosts while also managing their sizeable elk and deer ranch

Home At First's popular Westland Lodge. Photo courtesy Grant Muir.
Home At First's FORMER Westland Lodge.

(Grant) and teaching a full day at the local

 

elementary school (Bev). But an adventure awaited.
          Highway 6 is a major road in New Zealand, running the length of the South Island, primarily along the west coast, from Blenheim in the rich Marlborough wine producing area of the north to Invercargill on the island’s Antarctica-facing southern coast. Along the way Highway 6 passes through some of the greatest of New Zealand’s fabled South Island scenery: the rugged mountains southwest of Marlborough, the active earthquake canyons leading to the sea, the dramatic West Coast itself with magnificent ocean vistas and sudden stunning glimpses of snowcapped alps.
          The road is good, permitting easy driving at 60 mph, with enough curves to make things interesting and keep the scenic surprises coming. Among the surprises 

 

are several one-lane bridges — some of them of

The Southern Alps rise over 12,000' from the beaches of Westland. Photo courtesy Grant Muir.
The Southern Alps rise over 12,000'
from the beaches of Westland.

the 100-yard variety, but others over a quarter mile in length—which cross numerous rocky channels where the melt-water of the Southern Alps and the run-off from the Westland rain forest enter the flood plain, heading towards the Tasman. Some of these streams are noted fishing creeks and rivers drawing fly-casting sport fishermen from around the world. At least one flows into broad Okarito Lagoon before entering the Tasman. The lagoon is the scenic breeding grounds of the rare white heron. Little Okarito village — maybe a dozen houses — has a shop with an excellent selection of Maori crafts

 

and artwork, especially jewelry made out of the

famous local greenstone jade.
          So, with both scenery and shopping distractions we needed two hours to make the less-than-one-hour drive to Fox Glacier. But we got some great photos and some unique souvenirs. Maybe it was good that we signed up for the noon glacier walk instead of the 9AM trip.
 

FOX GLACIER

          There are two great accessible glaciers in the Westland (Tai Poutini) National Park. They descend the west flank of the Southern Alps dropping about 9,000 feet in about 8 miles, carrying the compressed snows from the highest of the Southern Alps westward to the Tasman. The Franz Josef Glacier, about 12 miles north of Fox Glacier, is reachable just beyond Okarito. Both glaciers have become cottage industries of tourism. Both empty into moraines (despite a few ebb years, Fox Glacier has been principally advancing since 1985) above namesake hamlets of motels, souvenir shops and adventure tour operators.
          Our glacier hike arrangements were made with Alpine Guides Fox Glacier Ltd., which operates Fox Glacier Guiding out of a good-sized storefront of shops and offices like something you might find in the American West or the Canadian Rockies. Fox Glacier Guiding sells souvenirs, clothing and specialty gear for hiking and climbing at their Hobnail Shop in Fox Glacier and the Glacier Shop in Franz Josef Glacier. The clever retailing in these shops gets you coming and going. We saw folks buying gear prior to their

Fox Glacier descends 8,000' in 8 miles from its snow source by New Zealand's highest mountains to its terminal moraine in the Westland rain forest at 250' above sea level. Photo © Home At First.
Fox Glacier descends 8,000' in
8 miles from its snow source
by New Zealand's highest
 mountains to its terminal
 moraine in the Westland rain
forest at 250' above sea level.

glacier adventures, and the same folks buying souvenirs
immediately afterwards.
          The busiest counter at the Fox Glacier Guiding building was the check-in counter for their many guided glacier experiences. Mike and Carrol Browne, directors of Alpine Guides Fox Glacier Ltd., have created a menu of adventures with something for everyone and almost every pocketbook. The most basic and least expensive adventure is a two-hour "interpretive" walk to the lower end of the glacier, costing about NZ$49 for adults and NZ$35 for kids 8-15. On the other end of the scale, Fox Glacier Guiding offers a NZ$1795 3-day (2 nights) Browne Fox Alpine Skills Course to introduce technical alpine mountaineering skills.
          Our adventure was one of Fox Glacier Guiding’s most popular offerings, the

 

Flying Fox Glacier Helihike. This 3-hour experience costs

A red-and-white chopper appeared, rotated once, and softly put down on the concrete landing spot. Photo © Home At First.
A red-and-white chopper
appeared, rotated once,
and softly put down on
the concrete landing spot.

NZ$399/adult (kids from 9 years old permitted, but pay the same as adults), and requires basic fitness, agility, and no fear of flying.
          From Fox Glacier Guiding’s clean, modern headquarters a less-than-modern, less-than-clean bus transported us about 5-minutes to a one-room cinder block building on the flood plain flats outside of town. Here we traded in our shoes and socks for warmer, woolen socks and sturdy if well-used hobnail boots. Our guide urged us to quickly put on our borrowed footwear and join him outside by the helipad. Within 5 minutes a bright red-and-white chopper appeared, rotated once, and softly put down on the concrete landing spot. Quickly the pilot’s door opened and he helped his five passengers clamber out. As soon as they came through the gate by the blockhouse, five of us were shepherded to the helicopter. Without backpacks and cameras, we were helped into the chopper. We were shown how to belt ourselves in and how to put on our headphones so we could speak with our guide-pilot.

 

Then our cameras and backpacks were handed up to us

and the pilot himself climbed in.
          The rotors gained rpm, and it became noisier. The machine wanted to leap into the air. The pilot hurriedly  requested and received clearance. We levitated maybe six feet, and spun half a rotation towards the mountains. Then our nose dropped, the rotors went into full steam ahead and we raced away from our cinder block airbase. The weather was cloudy, with some broken patches showing blue sky. Visibility was excellent, but there was a ceiling at about 8,000-9,000 feet, hiding the great peaks of the Southern Alps, Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. We followed the rocky streambed of the Cook River east, over a shoulder and then over the moraine to the base of the Fox Glacier, which formed a Big S on its way uphill and into the clouds.
          A continuous stream of chatter came over the phones—some between pilot and base about future shuttles he needed to plan that day, and some between pilot and passengers, as we got the blow-by-blow of the remarkable environment we suddenly found ourselves in. Tail up so we could readily see out of its Plexiglas nose, the chopper swung from side to side. Like a bumblebee in a field of flowers, it shunted in stuttering flight to whatever caught our attention. We explored the steep rock embankments which contain the glacier. We soared to the upper reaches of the Fox where, for a precious moment, the clouds parted to reveal a cobalt blue sky and serrated snowcaps of 3000 meter high mountains. Then we seemed to free fall alongside the steep upper descent of the glacier called Victoria Falls before hovering in a spin over a little anvil of ice in the middle of Fox Glacier. Below us, visible only as black specks among the wrinkles and crevasses, were people. A few hundred yards above them, it was hard to imagine how they got
here.

          Now we descended with skilled purpose, spinning, spinning, looking for threats to our safe touch down—wind shear, probably. Touch down?! We barely placed both runners on the anvil, which could not be much larger than a billiard table. The rotor stayed hot, and the pilot opened his door. But he stayed in his seat. We were met by our glacier guide, who helped us with our belts and our packs and our footing as we made the long step from chopper to pack ice. I suddenly knew why some agility is required for this trip.
          The chopper pilot was in a hurry. He had more people to ferry — including five more for our trip — and he was impatient to end his balancing act on this altar of ice. No sooner did

No sooner did our fifth passenger scramble down into the arms of our glacier guide than the helicopter leapt about ten feet into the air, then rolled right, plunging steeply down ice for the two-minute straight run to the cinder block pick-up point. Photo © Home At First.
No sooner did our fifth passenger
scramble down into the arms of our
glacier guide than the helicopter
leapt about ten feet into the air,
then rolled right, plunging steeply
down ice for the two-minute
straight run to the pick-up point.

our fifth passenger scramble down into the arms
of our glacier guide than the helicopter leapt about ten feet into the air, then rolled right, plunging steeply down ice for the two-minute straight run to the cinder block pick-up point.

 

ON THE ICE
          Suddenly it was very quiet and still. And slippery. Waiting 50 feet beyond and below us were the five who came up before us. They were standing in a depression next to a wooden box and what looked to be a stack of firewood. Slowly, carefully, we inched ourselves down the incline to join them. In another fifteen minutes the chopper appeared again, touched down briefly enough to drop off another five persons, then dropped out of sight.

 

          Our glacier guide assembled his charges by the

Pierre cut quite a figure—handsome, athletic, even cheery—as he wended his pick-axe in one hand deftly carving out stair steps without breaking stride or a sweat. Photo © Home At First.
Our glacier guide, Pierre, cut
quite a figure — handsome,
athletic, even cheery — as he
wended his pick-axe in one
hand deftly carving out stair
steps without breaking
stride or a sweat.

cordwood. "I’m Pierre," he said in an Aussie-French accent. Pierre is not his real name. I’ve forgotten his real name. But I will not forget his accent. Not a keeper.
          Pierre handed out the contents of the wooden box: steel-toothed frames for our hobnail boots — elementary instep crampons. Then he passed out the logs, which turned out to be wooden poles tipped with galvanized steel points — alpenstocks! Next came a five-minute lesson on how to walk in our slippery environs. Then, like a mother duck, Pierre led his fifteen goslings up out of the depression and into terra incognita.
          For the next two and a half hours Pierre — easily the youngest of us, certainly the fittest of us, and, oddly, not the only one of us in short pants — led us on a glacial scavenger hunt. We collected as many glacier-walking experiences as he could assemble for us. We nervously climbed ridges, squeezed sideways between ice walls, stepped gingerly over crevasses, slip-slided through ice grottoes, ascended crowns, stared down mesmerized into chasms, all with Pierre’s running commentary of light 

 

patter and minor levity designed to put us at ease. He cut

quite a figure — handsome, athletic, even cheery — as he wended his pick-axe in one hand deftly carving out stair steps without breaking stride or a sweat. He made it known he was professionally trained and has tackled the toughest challenges of the Southern Alps, and some of the northern Alps, too — he earned his unique accent in the French Savoy.

          Most of us were fit — savvy — young — daring enough to take on every challenge Pierre threw at us. Even the loud reports from the glacier cracking in the late summer warmth didn’t put us off. Pierre kept spirits buoyant, even when we would venture into an area without an outlet and had to retrace our steps. One of us, however, was not right for the trip.
          Like most of us, she was a flatlander and a first-timer on a glacier. But she was clearly eldest (except for her like-old husband) at about 60 years old. She was an Aussie on her first trip to New Zealand. I don’t think she had ever seen snow before, let alone a sloping, moving river of ice. She had the most difficulty

We nervously climbed ridges, squeezed sideways between ice walls, stepped gingerly over crevasses, slip-slided through ice grottoes, ascended crowns, and stared down mesmerized into chasms. Photo credit - Legend Photography - NZ Tourism.
We climbed ridges, squeezed sideways
between ice walls, stepped gingerly
over crevasses, slid through ice
grottoes, ascended crowns, and
stared down mesmerized into chasms.

Photo credit - Legend Photography - NZ Tourism.

with getting in and out of the chopper, learning
to walk with the ice aids, and overcoming her fear of slipping and falling. Pierre paid great attention to her, making sure that her experience was as positive as possible, seeing to it that she did not become too worried that she was spoiling things for the others, helping her stay at ease even when her tendency was to panic. Thanks to Pierre, the woman was a danger neither to herself nor to the others. But she should not have been there.
          A simple test will tell you if you should be there: are you afraid of falling in a slippery environment? If "Yes" is your answer, pick another adventure. Fox Glacier Guiding has something suitable for you.

BACK IN THE AIR; BACK ON THE GROUND

 

          By 2:30 PM we were feeling accustomed

Just when the braver, bolder, more foolish of us began to drift away from the group, Pierre declared it time to descend to the chopper pick-up point. Photo © Home At First.
Just when the braver, bolder, more
foolish of us began to drift away
from the group, our guide Pierre
declared it was time to descend
to the chopper pick-up point.

to our ice legs. Just when the braver, bolder, more foolish of us began to drift away from the group to see if we could get a better photo angle of some imposing ice structure or other, Pierre declared it time to descend to the chopper pick-up point. Amidst all the hills and rills, and the endless gray-white with ice-blue and chocolate-chip-brown accents, somehow Pierre pick-axed a path right to the drop zone. After 2.5 hours on the Fox, the only quasi-flat spot we had seen was the anvil the chopper landed on. And it would no longer be there tomorrow.
          No sooner had we shed our crampons and pointy sticks than we heard the approach of the chopper. Scrambling into the helicopter proved no easier the second time. The pilot showed us some last remarkable scenery during the descent. Our arrival at the blockhouse reminded me of the end of an aerial tramway ride in the Alps. Except without cables. Changing back to civilian shoes felt a lot like taking off ice skates: for the first few minutes conventional walking was something of a new and amusing experience.

 

 

EPILOGUE
          I don’t remember the bus ride back to the headquarters. But I do remember I was the only one of our group of fifteen who did not end up buying a souvenir. I was tempted. It would have been a gratuity purchase, however. That is to say, it would be a way of saying "Thanks for this experience. It was worth the NZ$395 and more." Instead, I made up my mind to tell you about the trip. Next time you’re with
Home At First in Westland, be sure to look up Fox Glacier Guiding. Ask for Pierre.

 

 

.Fox Glacier Guiding

Photo Gareth Eyres - NZ Tourism   

IF YOU GO:
alpine guides fox glacier ltd. offers a menu of activities packages, with something for almost every age, fitness level, budget, and time constraint:
Two-hour, Four-hour, and Six-to-Seven-hour Guided Glacier Walks
Half-Day (4 hours), and Full-Day (8-9 hours) Guided Helicopter Hiking Trips
Various Ice Climbing, Overnight Heli-Trekking, and Mountaineering Training Trips
          You can add a
fox glacier guiding experience as part of your HOME AT FIRST independent New Zealand Fly/Drive itinerary. There is no extra charge to have us make all the arrangements for you.

GETTING TO westland NATIONAL PARK:
          The village of Fox Glacier is about 2 minutes drive time from
HOME AT FIRST's nearest WESTLAND lodging. Because the weather can be a determining issue for glacier walking — and especially for heli-hiking — many visitors wish to make their bookings within two days of their arrival at Fox Glacier. However, because these trips are very popular, you risk not being able to join the activity of your choice without advance reservations.

Mount Tasman and Mount Cook -- New Zealand's two highest mountains -- lord over the rain forests of Westland National Park. Photo courtesy Grant Muir.
Mt. Tasman & Mt. Cook — New Zealand's
two highest mountains — lord over the
rain forests of Westland National Park.

 

Few natural spaces are as uniquely varied as New Zealand.
Home At First offers lodgings in regions across the length
of New Zealand. Our exclusive "New Zealand Activities
Guide" has hundreds of suggestions for things to see
and do when you travel with
Home At First to
:
NEW ZEALAND

Fox Glacier and Westland National Park are easily reached from
HOME AT FIRST’s lodgings in WESTLAND.

WESTLAND is easily reached in NEW ZEALAND.

NEW ZEALAND is easily reached from HOME AT FIRST.

ASK TO SPEAK WITH A HOME AT FIRST "NEW ZEALAND SPECIALIST"
TRAVEL CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD.

—HOME AT FIRST—
AFFORDABLE DREAM TRAVEL WITH ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME.