It was an absolutely beautiful morning - blue (and I’m talking mesmerizing BLUE) skies, the kind of blazing sunshine that you can feel soaking into your skin, 70 degrees Fahrenheit – and we were psyched for our early afternoon Fox Glacier heli-hike, which, is exactly what it sounds like. A helicopter ride to a hike on the glacier!
When we arrived at the check in location, the staff went through the usual schpiel about how the weather can change very quickly and asked if we understood their refund policy if for any reason, our hike had to be cut short.
We, of course, nodded our heads, assuming there’d be no shot in hell that this would happen today, seeing as there literally was not a cloud in the sky.
They too acknowledged that while they’re obligated to share the warning with us, in that moment, they didn’t think it would be an issue, based on how perfect of a day it is.
After putting on thick socks and warm, leather boots, we listened to the safety briefing and then headed over to the helipad for the five minute ride over to the glacier.
Oh. Em. Gee. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park, flying high, panning through the gorgeous tree covered mountains and valley below. There even was a waterfall for God’s sake – like you can’t make this up!
Some clouds started rolling in as we approached, but directly over Fox Glacier, it was still wide open, blue skies.
As we soared towards the glacier, it looked like a giant ski slope, however once we got closer, the jagged ice, flowing water and ice covered mounds came into view. While it looked white from afar, up close the captivating blue tone shined through.
Watch the videos to see for yourself. Go ahead, throw it on full screen and turn the volume up so you really feel like you’re there!
We landed on the glacier and after a quick crampon (aka spikes on your boots to make it easier to walk on the ice) tutorial, we spent a couple of amazing hours walking on the ice, in absolute awe of this incredible monstrosity of nature, wondering how anyone could possibly question climate change when there literally is water gushing down the glacier at unreal speeds. 🙄
Since this wasn’t my first rodeo on a glacier, I remembered that you could drink any flowing glacier water so I was excited to fill up our water bottles. I gulped down the insanely pure glacier water and it was just as delicious as it was when I drank it on Glacier Grey in Patagonia.
Fun fact: Glacier water is SO pure, that while drinking it sparingly is fine, if you were to drink it consistently, you’d actually get sick because it’s TOO pure for our bodies to handle. Crazy, right? Learned that in Patagonia!
Anyway, during the hike, I noticed how quickly the clouds were moving. This still wasn’t surprising, as from my experience over the past few weeks in New Zealand, there literally could be four seasons in one day, switching from cold to hot, cloudy to sunny, windy to not, in a matter of minutes.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to snap a picture when the view is good because if you don’t, it might be gone the next time you try! Here are a few of the awesome shots we got:
At this point, we’re toward the top of the hike when our lovely guide’s radio starts blowing up and he tells us that as the clouds are getting pretty dense further down the glacier, we need to cut the hike 45 minutes short, as it’s important we get down and safely off of it (again via the helicopter) so that we don’t have to sleep on the mountain.
Wait…. what?! Has that happened before?!
Yep! Only a few times in the company’s history, but the good news was that they had supplies a bit further down the glacier for 100 people (there were probably only 20 of us), in case we actually truly did get stuck there! We’re talking food (apparently not very good, but whatever), sleeping bags, tents and, of course, all the water we’d need. I didn’t ask about the wine, but it’s New Zealand so I only assumed they’d have a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region or a Pinot Noir from Central Otago.😜
Now even though the clouds rolled in and it cooled down a bit, it really wasn’t that cold so my husband and I smiled at each other, knowing we were both thinking that it actually would be kind of cool to stay there overnight, as long as they had supplies.
Based on the unbelievable views of the stars we’ve been able to see during our time in New Zealand, I can only imagine how incredible it would be from a glacier. It’s hard to capture it on camera, but it actually looks like you can see the Milky Way behind all the stars.
We heard the man on the other end of the radio saying that we needed to hustle, as the helicopter was going to be there soon and they couldn’t waste any time waiting for us.
We walked quickly down the glacier and waited patiently for the helicopter to fly in. There was an eerie silence across the combinations of customers and guides in the middle of the glacier, waiting to see what next steps would be.
After a few minutes, we knew the helicopter was close and let me tell you, we heard it before we saw it coming! At this point, the clouds were so dense that we couldn’t actually see it until it was about 30 feet away. Imagine hearing the sounds of a helicopter that close and not being able to see it! It definitely got my heart racing.
The clouds were so dense that as the pilot was landing, he had to open the helicopter door and lean halfway out to see exactly where he needed to be, as he couldn't see out his window.
After his immensely impressive landing, the pilot immediately started shaking his head, explaining that we weren’t going anywhere for the time being! Our guide said that while the clouds always move quickly, he’s never seen them come in as fast as they did today so he wasn’t surprised with the pilot’s decision.
We hunkered down, realizing we might be there for a while. Minutes before, we were looking up at the bluest sky you’ve ever seen and now we were literally sitting in a cloud, with whiteness all around us. Check out the insane difference of only a few minutes!
After about an hour of patiently awaiting the pilot’s decision, he said there was an opening in the clouds that we needed to take advantage of quickly. I'm not going to lie, there was a part of me that was disappointed we couldn't stay!
Since my husband and I were on different helicopters on the ride over due to weight restrictions, we would be traveling back to the base separately, as they had to make a few trips due to how many people were on the glacier.
I kissed him goodbye and while I jokingly took the keys to our motorhome from him, just in case he didn’t make it off, I had a moment where it hit me that he actually might not come back that night. If the clouds moved in that quickly initially, what was stopping them from doing it again? It's one thing if we would be staying on the glacier together, but once I knew I was on the next helicopter and he wasn't, I became more nervous than excited.
With a pit in my stomach, I hopped on the helicopter and took one last picture of him (be more dramatic, right?🙄) before the pilot took my camera from me. I later learned that technically we weren’t supposed to be flying during this time so I get why he didn’t want any evidence!
We cruised just below the clouds and got to see an entirely different view from the one we had seen on the way up, which was equally as amazing, just in a different way.
This time, we got much closer to a waterfall that went 200 feet down into an abyss and floated low in between two pine tree covered mountains before dipping down into the valley, flying over local farms prior to making it to the helipad.
I hopped off the helicopter and while the rest of the passengers made their way back towards the base, I waited patiently for my husband to return.
I saw a helicopter on it’s way back and slowly the pit in my stomach started easing up, but when it landed and he didn’t get off the plane, I started asking questions.
Turns out there were four trips that needed to be made and, of course, he was not only on the last trip, but also the last one to get off the helicopter!
Crazy to think while I’m writing this, sitting on my bed in the motorhome, I could have very well been cuddled up in a sleeping bag on a glacier, staring at the stars.
Even after all that, is it weird that I actually wish we could have stayed there the night?
Would you have wanted to stay on the glacier or be on the first helicopter out of there? Do you have any similar close call stories? Share in the comments below!