You come to Fox Glacier town to see its namesake glacier of course, and this tour does not disappoint. Of course, you hear horror stories of crashing helicopters on this glacier, but Fox seems to be a very safety conscious and professional outfit but for those like me, uneasy flying, it was a bit of a leap of faith but there was no need to worry, the heli ride was highly enjoyable and only about 5 mins up and back.
This is a highly weather dependent activity and our guide told us that up to 40% of such trips are cancelled for weather reasons as had been the case for the entire 3 days prior to ours. We were therefore indeed fortunate to be able to go, as we were only here for a day. I thoroughly recommend you make a reservation as you get a full refund (and sliding scale refunds for trips cut short) if your tour is unable to run.
You check in at the main office on the main drag of Fox Glacier and they provide you with a waterproof coat. We were not provided trousers so make sure you don't wear jeans or water retentive material because you may get wet on this hike. From here you are bussed the 5 minutes to the heliport. We were a group of 31 and each helicopter holds up to 6 passengers (plus pilot of course!). So they ferry you up by sub-groups of 5 or 6 after weighing you and deciding who are the lightest members of you party, and those 2 are lucky enough to sit up front. Before you go they will give you boots and socks so there is no need to wear your own although you can - they will inspect to see if they pass muster (need strong ankle support).
I had never ridden on a heli before and it was a great experience. If you are in the 4 back seats as I was the fit is tight and you get a lap belt similar to an airline seatbelt and headphones to dampen the noise and to hear the pilot. The ride up is spectacular in its own right and as I say, takes about 5 minutes.
Your guides will be awaiting you on the ice and they fit you with crampons and walking pole should you desire the latter (which I think is a good idea). When we arrived it was hailing and raining but the ride up wasn't turbulent. We were fortunate the clouds cleared and most of the 90 minute plus walk was in pretty good conditions.
Our guide, Jon, was first class. All guides lead you pretty much in single file as you pass highly interesting formations in the glacier such as crevasses, meltwater channels, blue caves etc. It is fascinating and educational and truly a wonderful walk. Not too cold if not raining but it was freezing in the rain. You do have to keep to the guides path as the glacier is ever changing and things like rock falls and ice falls do occur although we didn't see any. The crampons are excellent and feel very secure indeed. The guides are very helpful fitting them too.
We were lucky enough to see several blue caves including one you could traverse lying on your back although this was a very cold and wet experience! Your guide is in constant contact with others and the pilots to ensure your safety but we never felt at risk at any time. However this is an alpine environment and it is easy to see how you could fall and/or injure yourself.
It is not too strenuous but you will know you have been walking as it is very up and down as befits the terrain. You are obviously taken back a similar way (other side of the valley though) and that ride is equally as picturesque as the flight up. It is truly outstanding, well worth the high price for a family of four, I highly recommend it. You should be aware of the high cancellation rate and the unpredictability of the weather especially if you only have one day in Fox Glacier/Franz Josef - several on our tour tried to go the day before and were fortunate to have a down day to try again. If you are set on doing this you might want to allocate more than one day here to maximize your chances.
As always in NZ, friendly guides and no expectation of tipping which takes some getting used to for those of us living in the US.
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