New Zealand

New Zealand’s Gorgeous Glaciers Cool Since the Beginning of Time

by Elisabeth Easther

Some of the world’s most accessible and majestic ice formations are in New Zealand, home to more than 3,000 glaciers.

There’s something undeniably impressive about glaciers, bodies of ice so dense that they’re constantly shifting under their own enormous weight. Understandably, adventurers are drawn to their beauty, travelling on foot, by ski, or buzzing above them in helicopters to steal a glimpse of nature’s majesty.

South Westland’s World Heritage Jewel

The bulk of New Zealand’s glaciers can be found inside the 2.6 million-hectare World Heritage Area known as Te Wahipounamu. Comprised of four national parks – Aoraki/Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland – this picturesque wonderland is home to outstanding glaciers, snow-fed rivers and air so pure you wish you could bottle some to take home.

Admire Tasman Glacier by Boat

Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s largest, and one of the few accessible glacial lakes on earth where you can watch icebergs float around you. Rugged up warmly, visitors set off from Mount Cook Village before zipping across the surface of the lake in custom-made boats. Keep your eyes peeled for giant bodies of frozen water as they fall from the glacial face in a process know as “calving” while your guides explain how these extraordinary formations came to be.

Plane Sailing on Ice

Mount Cook Ski Planes’ founder Harry Wigley started flying tourists around Aoraki/Mount Cook and over the glaciers in the 1950s. Necessity led him to invent a special retractable ski that allowed planes to take off from the airfield and land on the snow. The company still takes tourists to the pristine Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier and Hochstetter Icefall. Choose to land on snow or glaciers, or pick the more affordable but shorter scenic flight option. If you’re fit and feeling adventurous, the possibilities include skiing, ice climbing and snowshoe adventures.

High Hopes with Fox Guides

Heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier is an experience to treasure forever – an outing that includes a helicopter ride and a three-hour guided hike through this land of towering peaks and ice of alpine blue. If you’re on a budget, the Fox Trail Terminal Face Walk is an easy two hours (complete with a chance to check out the glacier’s “snout”) accompanied by a guide who’ll share Maori legends and scientific facts.

Sky’s the Limit

For pure perspective and eye-popping scenery, little beats seeing glaciers from above. Not only does a flight across Tasman, Franz Josef or Fox glaciers give unparalleled views of these natural wonders, you’ll also understand how these masses of ice have carved out spectacular glacial valleys. An Air Safaris Grand Traverse scenic flight takes in all three glaciers, as well as Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, brilliant azure lakes, and the spring and autumn colours of the vast alpine sheep stations. Operating from Tekapo or Franz Josef, the wings of the aircraft are fixed above the windows to allow for maximum viewing.