We looked up at the tallest mountains in New Zealand, guarded by glaciers on all sides, and thought, “How the heck are we going to get up there?” We could get a taste with a trek to the base or an ice hike around a few of the crevasses, but to get the full effect of Mount Cook and the 15 miles of Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, we had to call in a chopper.
Driving from Queenstown through the Haast Pass up the West Coast was too gorgeous to rush so we stopped for the night by an sea cliff about 50 miles short of Franz Josef. Upon parking, we couldn’t see the views but the sounds of a waterfall and the waves crashing below told us it was a good spot. We woke up and it was just too pretty to shower inside the campervan so we put on a tea kettle. (Yes, Anne also took her shower al fresco.)
Passing beaches and lush forests, you can’t imagine that a glacier will ever appear, but then you see its jagged face push through the mountains and trickle into the sea. It’s gorgeous but a total tease, revealing only the edge of what extends for many miles into a fierce ice field. We had to get closer!
Through our bartering and blogger skills (want to learn how to do it yourself?), we teamed up with Alpine Adventures to join their glacier flight. Their entry-level 20 minute trip was departing and we gladly carpooled. It whirled up the moraine to 6,000 feet with views of Westland National Forest, Southern Alps, and the craggy white face.
We crossed the threshold of the glacier, marveling at its shark-tooth peaks and blue crevasses cut into the silky white snow.
We touched down at a nook of the mountain to take a little walk around this beautiful lake.
The 20-minute flight was amazing, but Alpine Adventures knew that wasn’t their best for a honeymooner review. “Give me your number,” said the manager on duty. “If any seats open for the Twin Glacier or Grand Tour flights, I’ll give you a call.” So while we waited, with fingers crossed, we set off for the 90-minute Franz Josef Glacier Walk. We hiked the moraine towards the face, enjoying the waterfalls, glacier-ravaged rocks, and the closest lookout point. We got back to the camper and checked our voice mail, “Anne and Mike, we have two seats on the Twin Glacier flight. Be here at 1:30 if you’d like to join.” Heck yea!!!
Back in the helicopter, we swooped over the forest to Fox glacier, and up towards Mt. Tasman (11,475 ft) and Mt. Cook (12,280ft) — the country’s two tallest mountains. We felt humbled, like we needed to be a Sir Edmund Hillary to get so close to those peaks…and a little guilty that our aerial view was probably better than his.
Standing in a glacial valley surrounded by towering white mountains and a perfect blue sky was one of the most surreal spaces in time. In flight one, we saw a glacier but in flight two, we saw another world.
As if glaciers, volcanoes, and fjords weren’t enough, New Zealand also has glowworms!!! This is actually a big attraction in the country but we had yet to see them because they all seemed to require formal tours. Then we found the Minnehaha Walk by Fox Glacier, a self-guided stroll through a river dell full of these bio-luminescent larvae. We shuffled along in the dark, trying not to use our light or fall in a ditch, and then POW! We rounded a corner and found these celestial patches of awesomeness, one after the other!
We only had one more day with the camper and many miles to the Christchurch Maui Motorhomes depot. After the magical glowworms, we forced ourselves to drive as far as we could at night and stopped at Lake Wahapo. This was our farewell sunrise with mountains shrouded in orange clouds and water to reflect their perfection.
After a solid month and 1,309 miles around the North and South Islands, we were not even close to done with New Zealand. Ending the campervan journey was bittersweet, feeling like we could have used a year extension, but rather than be sad, we made a toast to our undoubted return.