One of the perks of my job in New Zealand was the helicopter flights onto the two glaciers. On my first day in the job I was told that if I was extremely lucky, I may be able to spend a night at one of the huts on the glacier. After spending nearly 18 months there I finally got the chance to spend a night in Chancellor Hut on Fox Glacier. Here’s what happened.
Heading To Chancellor Hut
I got in my second helicopter of the day. (A few hours earlier I walked through the office asking to borrow a squash racket when I got whisked away on a flight. It was a very big perk of my job). Clark was the pilot who would drop me off at Chancellor hut to spend the night. We lifted from the familiar pads in Fox Glacier and turned to fly away from town towards the glacier. As we flew up the valley I could see where the road had been washed out in the storms the previous months.
He landed on a small helipad built just above the hut. I opened the helicopter doors to the cool mountain air and got my bag out of a basket that was attached to the side of the machine. The noise from the rotors never abated as I shut the basket and doors, took a few steps away from the machine and gave Clark the thumbs up. He lifted and turned away to fly back down the glacier and to head home for the night.
I was suddenly alone.
And very remote.
I walked into the hut, opening its heavy wooden door. There was nobody there. I chose a bunk, rolled out my sleeping bag and decided to go for a walk around.
I followed a path leading up the mountain. I got to an orange marker post. Ahead of me up the mountain was another. However I soon realised that the orange markers kept going and I had been walking for a while now. I wasn’t 100% sure when sunset was so headed back when I got high enough to see Mount Tasman, the second highest mountain in New Zealand.
When I got back to the hut I met Nikki and Ada who were also staying there the night. They had landed on the glacier and had walked up the few hundred metres over the ice and tussock to the hut. In one sense, I was relived not to be alone, but in another the solitude was something I was after.
I cooked some rice in my camp cooker, shared some biscuits with Nikki and Ada before hauling one of the mattresses from the bunk beds, outside up to the helipad. The sky was slowly going orange so I took my book, lay down on the mattress and read. It was one of the most relaxing moments of my life.
The sun tentatively dipped behind the page of my book. As I sat and read, the glacier creaked a few hundred metres over the cliff edge. The mountains of the valley changed colours like a chameleon with each passing minute. Beyond that were the flat fertile planes where Fox Glacier Township was. Other than Nikki and Ada, these few hundred people about 12km away were the closest humans to me. Past that the sun was now reflecting off the Tasman Sea. It seemed to take an age to finally fall behind the sea and the temperature suddenly dropped, like somebody just closed a door to the day.
I rejoined the guys at the hut, sitting outside eating biscuits offered by Nikki and discussed our day. I wanted to see the stars. They were slowly coming out and actually shimmering. I was going to wait until everything was in blackness but there was an orange glow on the horizon that stayed there for a long time, like embers from a fire.
I walked back up to the helipad to see the stars again. A slither of orange remained in the horizon. But the stars were still incredible, shimmering like a disco ball as the Milky Way. The stars provided enough light to see the outline of the mountains and the glacier beneath.
I went back into the hut. It was only 7.30pm but I felt tired. The natural darkness tricking my body clock. I lit some candles and sat in the stillness as the others read by headtorch in the room next door. The wooden bunks and wooden structures lit by the spooky candlelight made me feel as if I were in a film set hundreds of years ago.
I drifted off to sleep early, expecting the night to be colder than it was.
I woke early as well. Now it was cold. I put on extra layers and sneaked outside, climbing up to the helipad again. The sun was slowly rising above the mountains behind me. Before long the sound of helicopters shuttling tourists up and down the valley took over. I made a coffee on my camp cooker and sat and enjoyed the views. Nikki and Ada started their hike further up the valley, they were to stay for a second night. I packed my bag up and waited for a helicopter to come and collect me, taking me away from one of the most incredible nights I have ever had.
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- Be sure to check the weather before you go. You will need at least 2 days of good weather to get up there and back.
- Make a booking with DOC before you go to the hut. It currently cost $20 per night to stay there.
- You will have to make a separate booking with the helicopter companies. I flew with Glacier Helicopters from Fox Glacier.
- There are no provisions in the hut so take enough candles, lighters, matches, torches, headlamps and batteries to last your journey.
- Take food that is easy to cook on a camp stove. Backcountry meals are great for this!
- Always prepare for the worst. Take an extra days food in case you are unable to get off when you can. The helicopter company and local knowledge should be able to give you advice on this.
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.