One of the highlights of my South Island trip in New Zealand was the helicopter flight over the Fox Glacier. First of all, it was my very first time in a helicopter, ever! Second, I had never before seen a glacier from above or stood on one. I did see my first glaciers in Patagonia two years ago, but only from below. So this was a very special experience. Third, we were super lucky that we even got to go, as NZ weather is fickle.
But let me start at the beginning.
I was on a bus tour around the South Island of New Zealand with my aunt. This tour included several opportunities for scenic flights. The first one, to Mount Cook, couldn’t take place because of bad weather. Now, we had reached the other side of the mountain range, where we usually would be able to chose between a short helicopter flight to Fox Glacier, a longer one to Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier or a super long one to both of them plus Mount Cook.
However, remember what I said about fickle weather? The bad conditions meant only the first, short flight option was available at all.
My auntie and I both wanted to take advantage of as much as we were able to. So we booked ourselves on a helicopter flight!
First time on a helicopter!
First, we had to check-in. As there were quite a few of our tour group participating, we were divided into two groups of six. After signing some papers that informed us about the involved risks, we had to step unto the scale. Yep, if you want to go on a helicopter, they need to know your weight.
I didn’t know at first what it was for, but after they took us on the short ride from the office to the helipad, the answer became clear: Our weight, which was noted down on our wristbands (so no hiding possible), determined who got to sit where on the helicopter.
As it turned out, those who were heavier got the advantage. Lighter people had to sit on the inner seats, while those with more weight, which in our case were mostly the men, got to sit at the windows. Is it too late to put on a few extra kilos in chocolate?
Anyway, I wasn’t going to let my middle seat spoil my enjoyment of the flight. Not gonna lie, though, I was also a bit nervous. I really hate being on planes, as I get airsick. So I wondered if helicopters would be the same. But either way, there was no going back now.
Once we were all strapped in and wearing our headsets, we were ready to go. At first, going up felt a bit wobbly and my fears of flying all kicked in. But soon, we approached the glacier and the view eradicated anything else.
On top of Fox Glacier
After flying up the glacier we landed for a little stint in the snow.
This was back in early February and a lot of the glacier was a reddish-brown colour. This was an effect of the Australian bush fires. Remember those? I know Corona kind of overshadowed all other news, but there was a time when those fires were all the world was talking about.
The ashes blew over all the way over the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where they coloured the glaciers an orangey-brown. I had seen photos of it before on Young Adventuress, who is NZ based and wrote a great piece about it (you can find it here if you want to know more). But seeing this with my own eyes really drove home the impact those fires had.
But no matter the colour, being on the glacier was super exciting. We couldn’t stay long, as the weather was turning. Our pilot worried that if we missed our chance to leave now, we’d be stuck on the glacier until it cleared again. Apparently, you can’t start the helicopter when the cloud cover is too thick. And as much as I enjoyed being up there, I really don’t need to be stuck in the snow for hours.
Nevertheless, our pilot gave us just enough time to get a few photos and dip our fingers in the snow. Before things could turn into an actual snowball fight, though, he rushed us all back into on board.
A bird’s eye view of New Zealand
To make up for the little time on the ground, we got a long flight over the glacier and the surrounding mountains. I was so busy admiring the landscape and taking pics that I didn’t even worry about the actual flying anymore.
Only when we came back down I realized that I felt a bit wobbly. The twenty minutes we had been riding our heli was fine, but I don’t think I need to go any longer. Looks like flying in general just isn’t my thing.
Still, I’m super happy I went. Also, it turned out afterwards that we had been incredibly lucky. We had been the last group actually able to land on Fox Glacier. Everyone after us could only fly above it but not come down, as the weather didn’t allow a landing.
I sure won’t complain about that NZ weather again!
Have you been in in a helicopter? What was it like? Would you want to do it again? Did you ever stand on top a glacier? Share in the comments!