Glacier Explorers’ bumper season just the tip of the iceberg


Wintry conditions may have forced the early closure of one of New Zealand’s most unique tourist attractions but they’ve left a spectacular natural phenomenon in their wake.

Strong winds at Aoraki Mount Cook have blown more than 50 icebergs of all shapes and sizes down to the southern end of the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake and cold temperatures have frozen the waters around them so they’re ‘stuck’ in place for all to see.

The icebergs are congregated by the Glacier Explorers’ boat jetty and can be seen from the public walking track.

“It’s a fitting finale to an absolutely bumper season for us,“ says Glacier Explorers Operations Manager Bede Ward. “All the ice currently in the lake will be our iceberg 'stock' for next summer.”

Glacier Explorers provides spectacular boat cruises amongst the icebergs and this season its passengers have enjoyed trips of a lifetime with the largest iceberg calvings ever seen on the Terminal Lake.

On 10 February, in the most significant single calving in the lake’s 25-year existence, a giant slab of ice or ‘calf’ estimated to be 250m long by 250m wide by 80m high plunged into the Terminal Lake, causing a three-metre tidal wave. A second iceberg about quarter of the size calved from the face shortly afterwards.

This event was preceded by a huge and spectacular chunk of turquoise basal ice (eight metres wide and 30 metres high) calving from an iceberg into the lake on 4 February.

Iceberg cruising is fast becoming a must-do activity for those who visit Aoraki Mount Cook, not only for the up close and personal iceberg experience but also for spectacular views of surrounding mountains and some of the best photographic opportunities in the national park.

In order to meet increased demand this season (September 2008 to May 2009) Glacier Explorers expanded its passenger capacity by 25% by adding a fourth craft and more trips to its daily schedule.

Mr Ward believes that reports of the retreat of the two million year old, 27km long Tasman Glacier has been a great drawcard for business.

“We’re getting more and more icebergs now so we’re naming them in order to track and communicate changes and locations. It also makes for fascinating stories for our passengers,” he says.

“Since the Terminal Lake began forming in 1973, the Tasman Glacier’s retreat has noticeably quickened because the lake is expanding all the time and is causing a more rapid melt of the terminal face. From now on I think we may be looking at major calving from the terminal face as an annual event.”

Those keen to see the icebergs in all their glory can drive from Aoraki Mount Cook Village up the Tasman Valley Road to the Blue Lakes Shelter (15 minutes), and walk up to the moraine wall (30 minutes).

Glacier Explorers is currently ‘on ice’ from 28 May and will resume operations when the lake thaws in early to mid September.