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What it's really like to.. Heli-Hike Fox Glacier on New Zealand's South Island

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Things to do in the South Island , New Zealand : Fox Glacier Heli-Hike
Just when I thought I was certain of my favourite country to visit in the world, New Zealand had to come along and start a boxing match in my head with Iceland. Alike Iceland, New Zealand boasts numerous accounts of my travel trifecta - that is, the presence of waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers. Within my first day of touring New Zealand's South Island on Topdeck Travel's Southern Explorer tour I had already encountered two of these, as I witnessed first hand the friendship of the waterfalls and glaciers that call Fox Valley their home.

As an add-on to our tour we were given the option to take a guided walk to the face of Fox Glacier or a heli-hike up onto the glacier itself. Run by the experienced Fox Glacier Guides , a heli-hike involves taking a short helicopter flight to a remote location approximately mid-way up the 12km glacier, where you then continue to explore the glacier on foot for 2-3 hours (depending upon weather conditions) before returning to base camp once again via helicopter. Of course, the climate scientist in me did not think twice about taking the heli-hike, wanting to investigate each and every crevasse, morraine and moulin of the receding glacier. I beg of you, if you get the same option, listen to Jessie J's advice and forget about the price tag (the heli-hike is $384NZ where the terminal face walk is only $49NZ) and take the heli-hike.

Need more convincing? Here's five reasons why you need to heli-hike Fox Glacier:

1. Unlike most glaciers around the world, Fox Glacier still flows almost to sea level and is one of only two places in the world where you can view glaciers descending into temperate rainforest. As a result, Fox Glacier is widely recognized as one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.

2. Not only is Fox Glacier the longest of the awe-inspiring New Zealand West Coast glaciers but its névé (i.e. the upper part of the glacier where the snow transforms into ice) was last measured to be 36 square kms - that's bigger than the whole city of Christchurch!

3. On your  short but sweet scenic helicopter flight to and from the glacier, you will be treated to priceless views from above Victoria falls, the Fox Glacier icefall and the surrounding temperate rainforest.

4. Since 2009 Fox Glacier has been retreating, due to an imbalance between the snowfall in the accumulation zone (i.e. the upper end of the glacier) and the melting of ice in the ablation zone (i.e. lower end of the glacier). Just watch this timelapse video showing the retreat of Fox Glacier by up to 300m between January 2014 and January 2015.

5. By flying into and onto the glacier, you are able to explore the parts of the glacier where the forces of nature are hardest at work creating immaculate ice caves and arches that are constantly evolving. And don't we all dream of penguin sliding through ice caves?

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