New Zealand’s Glaciers by Helicopter: All you need to know

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Are you ready to live one of the most exciting experiences of your life? Because without a doubt, seeing New Zealand’s glaciers in a helicopter is one of the most brutal things we’ve ever done. Especially because it was the first time we saw a glacier in person and the first time Fran rode in a helicopter.

This wonderful activity is one of the essentials of our route through New Zealand and in this post we want to tell you everything you need to know before doing it: prices, where to book, schedules, tips, precautions to take and other useful information to organize your activity in the most comfortable and simple way possible.

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If you want to read more information about our route through New Zealand you can find it here: complete guide of New Zealand, how to organize a trip to New Zealand in camper, how to pack for New Zealand, travel from Spain: flights, stops, prices, duration of the trip…

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Here is the video guide for the sixth stage of our camper van route through New Zealand, in which we show you our adventure through the glaciers of New Zealand by helicopter, in case you don’t feel like reading:

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Let’s talk a little bit about glaciers in New Zealand

That New Zealand is an exciting country full of natural wonders you surely know. But seriously, it doesn’t matter what we tell you, whether you see it or read it, because you’re going to be surprised anyway when you get there.

New Zealand has a lot of glaciers spread over its territory, but most of them (especially the most important ones) are in the South Island.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

The largest of these is the Tasman Glacier, which is 27 kilometers long and covers an area of over 100 square kilometers. What makes the Tasman Glacier special, which we will visit in one of the next stages of the route, is that it lies under Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand.

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Another of the most important glaciers in New Zealand is the Hooker Glacier, which is not as big as its neighbor Tasman but also shares location near Mount Cook, and through whose valley runs a beautiful trail that we did a few days after this tour of the glaciers of New Zealand by helicopter and we will talk about it in future posts.

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, New Zealand’s two most famous glaciers

In this area of New Zealand where we ride in a helicopter, there are two glaciers, the Franz Josef and the Fox, which are also the two most famous in the country, especially because they are two of the most accessible.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Fox GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Fox GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Fox Glacier

And although by road Mount Cook and these glaciers are quite poorly connected (you have to go around a lot to go from one place to another and it takes between 6 and 8 hours), in a helicopter flight you can see these three wonders of nature in just a short time.

The most impressive thing about the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers is that they are marine glaciers. That means that thousands of years ago their tongues of ice reached the sea. With the passing of the years and the rise in temperature (generalized in recent times due to climate change) their tongues have receded a lot.

In fact, the Franz Josef is currently about 19 kilometres from the sea.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

How to get to Franz Josef Glacier to see New Zealand’s glaciers by helicopter

It will depend on whether you come from the south or the north, like us, but there is only one road that takes you to the village of Franz Josef, from where you can see the glaciers of New Zealand by helicopter (or on one of the available treks).

It’s State Highway 6 and to give you an idea of the distances, here’s what it takes to get there from some other tourist spots on the South Island:

From Picton it’s over 6 and a half hours.
From Christchurch it’s about 5 hours.
From Wanaka it’s a little less than 4 hours.
From Queenstown it’s about 5 hours.

Don’t worry, because it’s practically impossible to get lost to get there.

How much does it cost to see New Zealand’s glaciers by helicopter?

We can’t fool you, as you can imagine, this is one of the most expensive activities of the trip. Although we do not regret even a little bit that we saved that money and invested it in this, because it is completely worth it.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

The price depends on the type of activity you do, since every minute of flight in a helicopter costs a lot of money. The company we fly with, Glacier Helicopters, has these four options:

Flying over the Franz Josef with a snow landing (15 minutes): 280 NZD per person (151 euros).
Flying over the Franz Josef and Fox with landing on snow (30 minutes): 360 NZD per person (195 euros). This is the one we made.
Flying over the Franz Josef, the Fox and the Mount Cook, with landing on the snow (40 minutes): 490 NZD per person (265 euros). This is the one we wanted to do, but we couldn’t finally do it because it was too windy in the area of Mount Cook.

However, in Franz Josef there are a lot of companies that perform similar services and others that include other activities such as a guided walk on the glacier.

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Options for flying over the glaciers by helicopter

If you have an adventurous spirit, be sure to look at all those options, because they’re cool. And remember that by booking online in advance you’ll be sure to find the best price and not run out of room, especially in high season.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: on top of the Franz Josef Glacier

You can book the helicopter ride on the Franz Josef with snow landing from here. And then I leave you other interesting options:

Can you visit the glaciers on your own?

Of course! If you don’t want to spend the money it costs to ride in the helicopter, you can do one of the free trekking tours, from which the glaciers can be seen a little further away, or hire a guided tour with which you can ‘go over the top’ and go into areas much closer to the glaciers that you could not otherwise approach for safety.

Glaciar FoxGlaciar FoxFox Glacier

What is the schedule for visiting New Zealand’s glaciers by helicopter?

Normally flights are made in the morning from first hour, but it will depend on the company you hire.

Our recommendation is that you book early in the morning in case your flight is delayed due to bad weather. This way you will have margin during the rest of the morning to improve the situation.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

How is the visit to the glaciers from the helicopter?

The first thing you will have to do is to go to the village of Franz Josef, from where all the flights of the companies in the area depart.

Once there, you will have to go to the premises of the company you have chosen, and you will do a small technical flight briefing in which they will explain what the activity will consist of and what safety measures you must take: you cannot carry anything but your camera and your mobile phone (no backpacks or tripods), you can only approach the helicopter from the front, it is the pilot who opens and closes the door…

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

Then they’ll weigh you to see how they distribute the weight inside the helicopter. In our case I went in front with the pilot and Fran traveled in the back with another couple. Once this is done, you will be taken to the takeoff area and put into the helicopter.

You will be provided with helmets to prevent noise from damaging your ears and to listen to the pilot’s explanations during the trip.

And… ready, set… go!

And what do you see and do during the flight?

It’s super complicated to explain how we felt flying over New Zealand’s glaciers in a helicopter, but it was a brutal experience.

From where the helicopter begins its flight to the area where you land in the snow (on the highest part of the Franz Josef glacier) you will go along the entire tongue of the glacier and be amazed by the landscape. Because it doesn’t matter what we tell you. It’s absolutely breathtaking. And even if we have shown it to you on video, you can’t appreciate even a little bit of that magnitude.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier

Once there you can go down, walk around in the snow, take a thousand pictures and be dazzled by the amount of light reflected by the glacier. In addition, the pilot will take a picture of you with the helicopter in the background that you can buy for 20 NZD. We are amazed that they have the printer to develop the photo in the helicopter itself!

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: on top of the Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: en lo alto del Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: on top of the Franz Josef Glacier

But don’t worry, because he’ll make as many as you want for free, so you won’t have to buy it.

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After about 10 minutes on ‘ground’ we restarted the flight setting course for the Fox Glacier. The landscape in this area is even more impressive.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Fox GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Fox GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Fox Glacier

Just as we saw the Franz Josef on the way up, we see the Fox on the way down, and the last part of the flight is made around the green mountains around it.

But… that’s it? It’s been half an hour already?

If you finally decide to do this activity, enjoy every second, because it flies by, never better.

Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: paisaje de la parte final del vueloGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: paisaje de la parte final del vueloGlaciers of New Zealand in helicopter: landscape of the final part of the flight

Tips for Helicopter Flight over Glaciers

You can only get on the helicopter with a camera and a cell phone. No backpack, no tripods, no selfies. So you will have to leave all this in the car/camper or in the lockers of the company you hire (if they have them).
It is very common for flights to be cancelled or delayed by wind due to bad weather, so plan this day on your route so that you have some time to spare. We, for example, had our flight delayed by a couple of hours.
It is important not only to plan your route thinking that the flight can be cancelled, but also to think about it, because it can be a huge disappointment.
If your flight can finally take off, there is also the possibility that the flight plan will be changed because of the weather. You may not be able to land in the snow, or the route may be shorter than originally planned. In all these cases (including cancellation) you will only pay for what you can enjoy. We would have hired the flight for the two glaciers and for Mount Cook and we could only do the two glaciers because of the wind.
Glaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierGlaciares de Nueva Zelanda en helicóptero: Franz Josef GlacierNew Zealand Glaciers by Helicopter: Franz Josef Glacier In addition to the helicopter, these two glaciers can be visited by trekking (some of them start with a helicopter flight that drops you off at the glacier itself and then picks you up). The simplest treks can be done on your own, but if you intend to go into the ice area, please hire a guided tour because the ice (even if not visible to the naked eye) moves and can be very dangerous.
Keep in mind that if you are going to make an excursion or flight that involves landing on the snow or walking on the ice, you will need warm clothes because it is quite cold at the top of the glacier.
Remember to also wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the reflection of the sun on the snow. It’s amazing how the light dazzles when you’re up there.

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