The glaciers of New Zealand’s West Coast form part of the South Westland World Heritage Area. Fox Glacier is the longest of West Coast glaciers. This river of ice flows for 13 kilometres from the top where it is framed by the summits of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman down to the valley and the town terminating above temperate rainforest just 250m above the sea level.
The unique combination of climate and shape also makes Fox Glacier one of the fastest moving glaciers, enabling it to move at approximately 10 times the speed of other valley glaciers around the world. This is due to the funnel-like shape of the glacial valley and the huge snow accumulation area, at the top of the glacier.
In the era of impending climate change seeing our planet’s dwindling glaciers is becoming a priceless experience. According to this year’s UN Climate Change Report (ICCP 5) “almost all glaciers world-wide are continuing to shrink. Over the last decade, most ice was lost from glaciers in Alaska, Canadian Arctic, Greenland Ice Sheet periphery, Southern Andes, and Asian Mountains. Current glacier extents are out of balance with current climate, and glaciers will continue to shrink even without further warming.”
Perhaps the most dramatic way to experience a glacier is to see it in its entirety from the air. We took a helicopter flight to the head of Fox glacier and it was by far the most amazing experience we had on our New Zealand journey. The helicopter took us over the town past the terminal face of the glacier, through the spectacular rugged beauty of surrounding mountains and set us down at the top of the glacier in front of the twin summits of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman.
Once back down on the ground and much closer to the sea level, we had a quick lunch in town and headed for a long drive to Lake Pukaki. We re-traced our steps through Mt. Aspiring National park, making a quick stop at the Pleasant Flat, down past Hawea and Wanaka lakes and onto the planes of Canterburi region. The scenery approaching to the town of Twizel looked like scenes out of the Lord of the Rings movies depicting the planes of Rohan.
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