Glacier Helicopter Tour & Snow Landing
My friends Bridget and Jenny both highly recommended a helicopter tour over Fox Glacier and/or Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island. Prior to New Zealand, I’d never been on a helicopter before (Alex did a helicopter ride in Hawaii over a decade ago). I was slightly nervous, so what did I do? Google ‘helicopter’+’new zealand’+’crash’ of course. It didn’t make me feel good that there was a helicopter crash on Fox Glacier in November of 2015. But, I made sure to NOT book a tour with that company, since there are so many to choose from (it took some research to figure out which tour company was involved in the crash… because the company ‘rebranded’ itself last year with a new name). And Alex and I vowed to NOT do the tour in the case of inclement weather.
Well, we needn’t have worried. We experienced TERRIBLE weather the entire time we were staying at Fox Glacier town. Rainy and very foggy. Our helicopter tour was cancelled, rescheduled a few times, and cancelled again. The morning we left Fox Glacier (and drove 500 miles — road distance, to only really travel 20 miles — actual distance), it was still drizzling and foggy. As we drove away from the ‘Southern Alps,’ the skies began to clear and the sun finally made its appearance.
After we arrived at Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, we made a reservation for a 45-minute ‘Glacier Highlights’ helicopter tour with Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters for the following day. Luckily, we had a beautiful, sunny day for our helicopter ride!
When Alex and I arrived at Mt. Cook airport, we were told our tour was being combined with another tour. And, we lucked out!! We paid for the shorter, 45-minute tour which only tours the nearby Tasman Glacier, but we went on the 55-minute ‘Grand Circle’ tour, which also included Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier on the west side of the Southern Alps! I also lucked out because we were assigned seats based on weight/size, and I got to sit in the front row, on the left side (so I had an unobstructed view from the front and side windows)!
On our way out to the glaciers, we flew over the Tasman Glacier Lake (gray due to the sediment runoff from the Tasman Glacier), and close to Aoraki/Mt. Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand). We then flew over Fox Glacier (much better view than from our hike to the glacier terminal face!!) and Franz Joseph Glacier — the density of the packed snow and the sunlight made the snow look blue. The crevasses (deep fractures, or breaks, in a glacier’s ice sheets) looked gigantic (as you can tell from our pictures).
The pilot made a snow landing on top of Tasman Glacier. We were able to see a snow plane take off from the same glacier (really cool to watch). I expected it to be cold on the glacier, but it was just past noon on a sunny day, and it was quite warm! We walked around for a bit and chatted with the pilot. (We swear, New Zealand must have the highest number of pilots per capita!)
We then took off and headed back to Mt. Cook airport. I loved every minute of our helicopter tour. It was incredible to see the Southern Alps up close and up high! It was truly a unique experience! As when people say, “When in Rome…,” I say, “When in New Zealand, do a helicopter tour. You won’t regret it!”
| Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters |
phone: 0800 80 07 02
[Side note: I’m not getting into politics here, but I just found this funny. During our time in New Zealand, I kept saying “Fox and Franz,” referring to the glaciers, but I kept hearing “Fox and Friends” the morning show.]
To read about our South Island itinerary: Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island