Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hiking on Fox Glacier

One of the highlights of our recent trip to New Zealand was hiking on a glacier.  The south island is home to two glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef.  They're in close proximity to one another so if you wanted you could hike both without much difficulty.  However, since walking on a hunk of ice seemed like it might be something that would get old quickly I didn't want to commit myself to doing both.  We chose to stick to Fox Glacier because we had heard that the view of the front of the glacier was better than that at Franz Josef.  It was also slightly cheaper and you got to spend more time on the ice.

We booked the hike a couple weeks in advance, which turned out to be unnecessary and ended up rushing the last half of our trip.  Had we gone in the high season pre-booking probably would have been a good thing, but when we were there in March people showing up and paying ten minutes before the hike was scheduled to depart.

The valley leading up to the terminal face of Fox Glacier
It is possible to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier and go hiking from there, but since I'm afraid of both heights and small flying machines we elected to go on a group hike at the base.  You can only get on the glaciers with a licensed guiding company, of which there are two (one for each glacier), so your options are limited.  The hike began with about 45 minutes of walking from the parking lot through a valley and up to the side of the glacier.  Once there we strapped crampons onto our feet and headed out onto the ice for about an hour and a half.

The terminal face of Fox Glacier
There was an option to do a full day hike, which explored a bit of the surrounding rainforest and went farther up the glacier.  It would have been nice for the better views, but in all honesty it's a good thing we stuck to the half day.  I cramped up out of nowhere towards the end of the hike and had trouble walking back out of the valley.  I'm glad that didn't happen in the middle of the glacier.

View of the rainforest from Fox Glacier

Would I do it again?  Probably not unless it was part of some larger trek and I needed to do it to get somewhere.  For me it falls into the category of, "once in a lifetime, not to become a new hobby" activities like cage diving with great whites would be if I could ever work up the courage to do that.

Would I recommend it to others?  Absolutely.  The experience is well worth it and it did end up being one of the cooler things we did and saw on our trip.  It's not like it's something that the majority of the world can do on a daily basis, so why not try it out when you get the chance?

I don't know these people but I like the picture.

Blue Ice on Fox Glacier