Glaciers. One of mother nature’s most extreme and fascinating natural wonders. Thanks to global warming, there’s a limited possibility for most people to see them, let alone walk on them. If (like me) you were incessantly bored by them in school geography lessons, you’d be forgiven for not jumping at the chance to visit one now.
As someone who doesn’t have warm hands unless I’m on a beach holiday or washing up – both of which are quite rare – visiting a glacier wasn’t necessarily at the top of my to-do list, but I’d now tell anyone visiting any-way near New Zealand’s Glaciers to make sure they stop off and take the trip to walk on the glacier.
It’s simply a must and here’s why:
The glacial valley is pretty stunning.
Massive transit-van sized hunks of glacial ice just sitting around? Ice cold glacial river crossable only by rubber dingy? Flat-bottomed valley created by years of ice erosion?
It makes for a pretty impressive landscape and is something you really should see with your own eyes!
It’s one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.
You can take a 2 hour guided tour from the visitor’s centre (as we did) which consists of a quick scenic drive in a minibus to the car park and a 45 minute trek to the terminal face of the glacier – pretty quick and great if you’re impatient like me!
Depending on the current situation of the river, you might need to cross the water on a raft tethered by a piece of string – a little bit of added excitement!
Alternatively you could take to the skies in a helicopter to get above the glacier for an arial view. Some of the helicopter trips land on the glacier further up the valley so you don’t necessarily miss out on walking on the glacier if you do that! It is more expensive though!
If you’re feeling brave, you can skydive over it.
Now there’s a better way of getting that arial view!
You get to wear crampons.
That’s enough on it’s own really! There’s something pretty cool about pretending to be a real-life explorer, even if you’re only ever a 45 minute walk from a van and an hour from a hot meal. String up the crampons and crunch into the ice as you climb up onto the surface of one of the few glaciers left in the world – like the badass you always knew you were!
You might be able to go under the ice itself!
If you can put aside the claustrophobia and the fear of being crushed under the gargantuan weight of the glacial ice then you can pretend to be Pingu for a few minutes and peek up at the sky from your own private naturally-formed ice-room!
n.b. If you’re like me and terrified by the thought of being trapped under the ice, you could hover in the entrance to the ice-cave instead (see header image).
The sheer scale
We all know glaciers are big, but nothing prepared me for the sheer scale of the ice, the valley and the cracks in the glacier’s surface! It’s bloomin’ massive.
If you listen carefully you can hear the glacier creaking under its own weight as it melts and shifts. It’s pretty eerie and makes it sound like it is somehow alive.
The rush of cold air
What you don’t get from a geography lesson is the feel of standing at the terminal moraine. When you’re there, the cold air rushes down the valley- cooled further by the surface of the ice. It’s quite strange!
The photos are cool
With New Zealand’s 4-seasons-in-a-day weather and stunning natural landscape, the photo opportunities, even for amateurs like me who only know how to point-and-shoot, are not to be missed!
Your kids might never have this opportunity
We know, we know. The glaciers are melting, global warming, etc etc.
It sounds like a rant, but the time to experience the glaciers is NOW! At this rate, it’s possible (according yo our guide) that by the end of this century the Fox glacier will have receded fully, so there really is a time limit on being able to enjoy it!
That’s a wrap.
So get yourself down to the glaciers edge. You won’t regret it!P.S. See more South Island NZ destinations here!