Christmas and New Year's holidays 2018 : SouthernJourneys' Christophe and Mara embarked on their own self drive tour of the South Island traveling in a motorhome. A heli-hike on either Franz Josef or For Glacier has always been on their things to do list in the South Island, and so Glacier Country on the West Coast was a certainty on their itinerary. As this is the most busy time of year for traveling in New Zealand - Kiwis are on holidays themselves during this period - it turned out all heli-hikes on Franz Josef were fully booked between Christmas and New Year, but there was still availability at Fox Glacier with Fox Glacier Guides.
The West Coast of the South Island is known to be one of the wettest regions in the country, but when they arrived coming down from Arthur's Pass, they were blessed with hot sunny weather and clear blue skies. Mt Cook was showing off gloriously in the background and the sunset was one to remember for a long time.
At first glance there's not an awful lot happening in this small town apart from a visit to the famous Fox glacier, but it's well worth exploring what the surrounding area has to offer. What is noticeable is the sound of helicopters buzzing around, taking people up to the glacier for a heli-hike or scenic flight above Mt Cook and Mt Tasman.
There are numerous short walks in the area, and Fox's most regarded walk is the easy circuit through the forests around Lake Matheson, famous for its reflections of the Southern Alps at dusk and dawn. When evening light colors the mountains, Gillespies Beach, about 19km from Fox Glacier through Waikukupa Forest on unsealed road, is a magical place to be, and provides a true wilderness beach experience. There is a basic DOC campground here, and in hindsight Christophe and Mara reckoned they should have stayed there for the night.
Due to time restrictions the plan was to do the heli-hike in the morning, and then continue driving south along the West Coast and via Haast to their next campground, near Makarora in Mt Aspiring National Park. However, destiny had other plans. Mara and Christophe had parked up at the Top 10 Holiday Park in town for the night, located conveniently at walking distance to town. So during the morning of the heli-hike, both unknowingly went to take a shower to find that their motorhome was locked when they both returned and they couldn't get in anymore. All of their belongings were inside the motorhome, but everything!!! Mobile phones, wallets, money, and in this case even their clothes!
Check-in time for the heli-hike was only 15minutes away, and there they stood without any proper clothing for their activity, just in shorts and jandals. They decided to go to the Glacier Guiding office regardless, and the staff was very friendly and helpful and provided all clothing required. They even borrowed sunglasses and sunscreen, so rather than sorting out their campervan, they decided to do the heli-hike first. As one of the guides said calmly "let it go man, you can think about that later".
It turned out to be a fantastic morning and the helicopter ride up the Glacier provided for impressive views of the glacier overlooked by Mt Cook and Mt Tasman.
The guided hike on the glacier occurs in small groups of about 10-12 people, and takes you to a myriad of impressive ice caves. What you most certainly need to bring here is lots of sunscreen and sunglasses. The walk on crampons takes about 2 to 3 hours before the helicopter picks you up again for a ride back to town.
If you're feeling even more adventurous, you can also try ice-climbing and full introductory courses are offered. It also takes you much higher up the glacier.
So after a fantastic experience on Fox Glacir in the morning, they returned to the campground, and found a lonely campervan still waiting to be unlocked. This was now Christmas eve, Mara and Christophe didn't have lunch as they could not buy any with everything inside the camper! Their hopes relied on the local mechanic to open their vehicle. An at first grumpy older man told them to wait as he was dealing with other clients, and on this day it seemed everyone needed a mechanic. So a few more hours passed until the mechanic finally showed up at the holiday park, this time he had a wide smile on his face and a bunch of tools in the back of his yute...And so he managed to open the vehicle - we won't disclose any details on how to do this - and Christophe and Mara could finally have some food.
As it was too late to carry on to their next destination, they stayed for another night at the campground and enjoyed Christmas Eve in Fox Glacier. There are far worse places to spend Christmas Eve!