Glacier Hiking in New Zealand

Heli Hike on Fox Glacier Photo taken by: Megan Simpson (Flying Kiwi Traveller)

Glacier Hiking in New Zealand

One of the most stunning natural wonders of New Zealand has to be the Glaciers. There are two main ones to choose from - Fox or Franz.

On the Flying Kiwi trip we take the time to explore the one so good they named a mint after it!

At 13kms, Fox Glacier is the longest of the awe inspiring NZ West Coast glaciers, and it's 36 square km neve is bigger than the size of Christchurch city! At its head soaring peaks of over 3,000m (10,000ft) dominate the vista. These include Aoraki (Mt Cook) and Mt Tasman, which weather permitting, can be viewed when reaching the upper parts of the Glacier on one of the Heli hiking experiences.

NZ's west coast glaciers are unique and are probably the most accessible glaciers in the world, as they terminate amongst temperate rainforest just 250 metres above sea level. Nowhere else does this happen! Glaciers constantly advance and retreat, held in the delicate balance by the accumulation of snow gained in the upper glacier and ice melting in the lower part. An increase in snowfall at the neve will result in the glacier advancing. Correspondingly, a faster melt will result in the glacier retreating. Overall Fox Glacier has been advancing since 1985.

There are a number of operators offering trips on the Glacier and all ensure you are well equipped with crampons, sturdy boats and for the more adventurous a snow axe! You can try a basic hike, a heli hike (getting you further up the mountain) or even try your hand at the heli ice climbing! Its an outstanding experience and as the conditions constantly change no two trips are the same.

Terminal Face Walk - $65

This is an informative and leisurely trip to the dynamic face of the glacier. It is here that the Fox River emerges from the ice and where ice collapses are often heard and seen. Although you will not walk on the glacier your guide will take you to the final resting place of the ice that has travelled 12 kilometres from the base of the Southern Alps, all the way to the river valley floor. Your guide may take you closer to the ice than the unguided public (if it is safe to do so at the time) and you will have the opportunity to learn the role of the Fox Glacier in shaping its environment. 

This two hour trip is reasonably easy going. About one and a half hours is spent walking over gentle terrain, up the left hand side of a river valley floor, at a speed that almost anyone can manage. There is a strong focus on providing you with quality interpretation so you can learn about the glacier and the surrounding environment.

  • Fitness level required: Low
  • Trip Duration: 2 hours

Guided Heli Hike - $425

The fly-in, fly-out heli-hike combines the excitement of walking on the Fox Glacier with the thrill of helicopter flights. By flying in you are able to access and explore a part of the glacier where its forces work hardest and often create spectacular ice caves and arches.

Equipped with leather boots and other equipment, you board the helicopter for your first flight over the pinnacles of the lower icefall. Here, the ice is in constant motion. You then circle the upper icefall and past Victoria Falls before landing.

Your landing site on the ice is a remote and exceptionally beautiful part of the glacier. At this stage, your guide outfits you with crampons, specially designed for these ice conditions and you follow the ice steps cut by your guide as you explore the amazing formations and ice caves which are only seen here.

Each departure is a true voyage of exploration. There are so many changing features that the guides always find something new. Weather permitting, ice time is up to 3 hours.

  • Fitness level required: low to moderate
  • Trip Duration: 4 hours

Heli-Ice Climbing - $525 

A high level of fitness is required. Limited spaces available. This day long experience introduces the adventurous to the exhilarating sport of ice climbing, on the spectacular ice walls in the upper part of the Fox Glacier. Your professional guide will tailor the day to offer variety and challenge to the novice and expert alike. Before heading to the ice you will be equipped with specialised mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes and technical gear.

During your thrilling helicopter transfers to the ice you will enjoy breath-taking views of the magestic Fox Glacier and surrounds.

Guides who instruct on these days receive special training to ensure they teach skills in the correct order so you advance quickly. You will be surprised by the quick progress that you make. The maximum guide to customer ratio is 1:4 ensuring that you receive close personal attention.

There are many steep walls to challenge you and you will quickly master basic cramponing and ice axe techniques. The adrenaline will start to flow as you challenge yourself with longer and steeper pitches. Using ice tools and the front points of your crampons, you climb vertical and at times, overhanging ice walls and pinnacles, secured at all times by a top rope attached to your harness.

  • Fitness level required: High
  • Trip Duration: 8 - 9 hours
  • Ice Time: Up to 5.5 hours
  • No Experience Required