Most of New Zealand’s glaciers are in Te Wahipounamu, a territory of 2.6 million hectares that has been designated world heritage of mankind. In this region of four national parks (Aoraki / Mount Cook, Westland Tai Poutini, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland) there are many activities: hiking trails, climbing, scenic flights, heated swimming pools and forests ready to be explored.
There are several options to get there: drive down the Great Alpine Highway; fly to Mount Cook Airport; take a train ride between Christchurch and Greymouth and then rent a car; or join a tour. The parks are open year round, if you visit in the winter, get ready to enjoy the cold.
The Tasman Glacier is the largest in New Zealand, located in one of the few accessible glacial lakes in the world, where you can see icebergs floating around and giant blocks of frozen water falling from the glaciers. One usually visits the Mount Cook Village before exploring the lake by boat, where the guides explain the formation of the local scenery. This is the only experience of its kind throughout New Zealand, ideal for taking pictures of nature.
By car, the trip to Aoraki / Mount Cook takes three and a half hours from Christchurch and three hours from Queenstown. The Glacier Explorer tour runs from September to May and we advise you to book in advance. A visit to the iconic Hermitage Hotel is recommended.
Landing on ice
The Mount Cook Ski Plans, is the right company to live the experience of landing on the Tasman Glacier and Icefall Hochstetter. Its founder, Harry Wigley, began taking tourists to fly over Aoraki / Mount Cook glaciers in the 1950s, and even invented special retractable skiing so planes could take off on the runway and land in the snow.
Flights take off year-round from Aoraki / Mount Cook airport, but it is advisable to plan ahead. Flexibility is also recommended as weather conditions can change quickly. As the nearest village, Mount Cook Village, has only one small convenience store in the hotel, you should buy what you need in Twizel, 65 km away.
Tracks and natural pools
The Fox Trail Terminal Face Walk is one of the most economical options to get to know the glaciers, a gentle walk of about two hours, which allows you to observe the tip of the glacier accompanied by a guide always ready to explain about the Maoris legends and scientific facts. One of the highlights of this tour are the warm, great pools for a relaxing moment amid the local nature.
The Fox Glacier is three and a half hours by car from Wanaka and two hours from Hokitika.
The Aoraki / Mount Cook region is the right place to try the local gastronomic specialty, the salmon. The waters of Aoraki / Mount Cook are known for the production of high quality salmon, considered one of the best in the world. One of the main factors contributing to its quality is the fast, highly oxygenated, freezing currents, with virtually no pollution or parasites, and because breeders do not use hormones. Many of the region’s salmon farms are open to visitors who can feed the fish and learn more about its creation.
The High Country Salmon Cafe, south of Twizel, is an excellent choice to sample this local specialty, as is the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon which offers delicious dishes, from sashimi to soups, on the shores of Lake Pukaki. At South Westland Salmon Farm, it is possible to feed the fish before dinner.
Simply flip over the Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers for breathtaking images and greater understanding of the formation of the region’s glacial blocks and valleys. Air Safaris’ Grand Traverse flight takes the traveler to all three glaciers and also to the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park with stunning, sparkling lakes and the colors of spring and autumn. The company operates Tekapo and Franz Josef, and uses planes with wings installed above the windows, allowing a wider view.
The best time to fly is between October and April, when more than 85% of flights are in operation. The city of Tekapo is in the heart of South Island, three hours drive from Christchurch and near Mount Cook. Franz Josef is on the west coast and five hours drive from Queenstown.
Source: Tourism Journal