Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand: Heli Glacier Landing

Jessica Peterson

Landing on a glacier is nothing less than a bucket list adventure, but what made this even more special is the fact that this part of New Zealand is home to two of the world’s only three glaciers that meet sub-tropical rain forest. (The other is in the Andes Mountains.) Our heli ride swept us across jagged mountains with distant views of the Tasman Sea. Climbing to 6,000 feet, we were deposited on the névé of Franz Josef Glacier atop Mt. Tasman.

My jaw dropped upon stepping out of the helicopter onto packed ice, although it was surprisingly uncold. Having lived in Guam for nearly five years, I hadn’t seen snow in nearly that long.

We watched other choppers descend into the wide plateau under the bright mid-morning sun and all too soon, we climbed back into ours. Our flight took in Fox Glacier and the 12,000-foot peak of Mt. Cook. We hovered above ice ‘marshmallows,’ precipitous waterfalls, and isolated pools, flanked by green sub-tropical rainforest. Our ‘helipad’ for takeoff and landing was situated next to a crystal glacial stream that we drank from and where you see us standing below a former bridge. We booked and were satisfied with Fox Glacier and Fran Josef Heliservices, in case you’re planning this trip.

I have no shortage of superlatives to describe the untamed beauty and sometimes otherworldly landscape of New Zealand. Nine days was not nearly enough to see all the major sights of North and South Island, but I am glad we hustled to Franz Josef for this adventure. And I do mean hustled. We skirted hairpin turns on a two-lane road for what seemed like days to get there, but it was worth every minute to experience this.

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The GoPro was rolling the whole time, which means you should stay tuned to Sound of Chic for a New Zealand movie in the near future.

>> READ NEXT:  One Day in Auckland, New Zealand

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The township of Franz Josef is only 330 residents strong and a couple of streets wide. It was a picturesque place to plug-in our campervan for the night. We perched on the patio and savored elevated pub food from The Alice May, whose namesake has a colored past that includes murder of her husband, conviction, and subsequent exoneration. I even went back for dessert as the sun dipped below the southern Alps.

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Franz Josef township also has glacier hot pools nestled within the rainforest. At the pools, a massage therapist with very capable hands willed my shoulders, tense from the drive, into submission.

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Photography by Timothy & Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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  • ‘The thing’ I wanted to do and didn’t in New Zealand. It must be fantastic.

  • Hendrik Hünecke

    Impressive photo post! Wow, I can already feel the mightiness of mother nature. Such mountains and glaciers, fantastic to see this. Here in Switzerland we also have quite high mountains and some glaciers but not that big as this one here. For me this is inspirational, because I really like the idea to make such amazing shots out of the helicopter. BTW – did you walk a heart in the snow on the 5th picture? 🙂

  • The collection of photos you have shared are amazing, incredibly detailed. What I thought was the most impressive about your trip was the fact that you guys had the glacier to yourselves. I’m looking forward to the go-pro footage!

  • Raghav

    Completely in awe of your photography skills… they are awesome! My parents have been to Franz Josef and missed out on the helicopter ride because of the weather but I have seen it before, although never in such clarity and again, I just love your photos a lot.

  • In Africa N Beyond

    This certainly is a bucket list item. I’m glad you didn’t find it too cold as I can’t handle much cold. The glacier hot pools sound divine too. Oh and your photos are stunning!

  • Neha Verma

    Wow..what a trip! Such a wonderful glacier. And I absolutely love that first picture of you two..classic black and white 🙂

  • Kathy James

    I have to say your photographs are absolutely amazing in this post. You needed no words as your pictures make me want to go there alone.
    I think a day on the glacier is finished off nicely in the hot springs. I would love to go there in a helicopter as I haven’t yet been in one. Thanks for the additional recommendations in town too. Over all a really informative post. Thank you.

  • Mel

    What an amazing experience to get to walk on a glacier. I’m guessing the glaciers in New Zealand are melting just as northern glaciers are? The views from the helicopter are quiet lovely. And you definitely deserve a second dessert to top off a day like that.

  • How incredibly amazing!!! This looks like the most perfect bucket list worthy experience. I would LOVE to ride in a helicopter and fly over a beautiful mountainous landscape only to land atop a mountain. Wow!

  • La Vida Viva Travel

    Ah this photos are breathtaking, especially the close ups of snow. It looks so fresh and fluffy! I’d love to visit NZ one day and do this trip!