We were all so excited to hear the good news that we would be flying up to Chancellor Hut that day.  After all, this was a trip that was two years in the making. The year before, our trip to Chancellor Hut had to be cancelled, ironically, due to too much snow for a chopper to land. This year, 2019, was a different story.  Hardly any snow had fallen this winter and weather conditions looked very good, especially for the West Coast.

After weighing all our gear and going through safety briefings with the HeliServicesNZ team, it was time to fly. The flight time to Chancellor Hut from the Fox Glacier village is only about five minutes, so I made sure I had time to take a few quick shots, as well as, have a look around and take in the scenery. Even in the time it took to get to the hut it was pretty shocking to see how much the Glacier had retreated. Emerald blue puddles on the surface of the ice and waterfalls rushing from the Glacier itself really felt like snapshots of climate change in action. It definitely gave me the feeling that this incredible Glacier wouldn't be with us too much longer, with brown rocks and boulders taking over the white landscape.

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We landed just above the snow line and to our surprise, we were greeted by around 15 kea. Judging by the squawking, these inquisitive birds were either very pleased to have some company, or just excited to have something new to play with. Nothing was safe, as soon as we turned our back they were picking at our cameras and tripods, getting into our bags, and battling for a position on the roof of the hut. All that aside, it was a beautiful experience to see so many of these birds in their natural environment and we had a lot of fun taking photos of them in the afternoon sunlight. We noticed that none of the birds had tags on their feet, which made us suspect that they might be juveniles.

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We were treated to dream conditions in the lead up to sunset, with sunlight highlighting the valley in beams of light. I set up my camera to do a panning time-lapse so I could sit back and take it all in. It really was hard to comprehend the fact that i was standing only metres from a glacier, with such an incredible sunset unfolding in front of me. My mindfulness was regularly interrupted by a curious kea, however, who was keen to get a closer look at my shiny camera. My role went from photographer to scare-crow for the next 45 minutes or so!

Fox Glacier Sunset

Once the sun dipped behind the hills, things got pretty chilly. The kea had decided it was time to go home and they made their way back to their nests across the glacier. Chancellor Hut has no power, so warm gear and a quality sleeping bag was  essential! If planning to visit, I  would also recommend bringing some candles to help see, as once it gets dark there's not a lot of things to do to pass the time! Luckily, there were a couple of left over candles we were able to use, which definitely made cooking over a billy a little easier.        

Hut life with Rachel Stewart and Daniel Murray

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I had really hoped to get some astro-photography while at the hut, but the sky was looking pretty cloudy. I woke up at 12.30am to check the conditions, but unfortunately, there were even more clouds than before. I woke up again at 1.30am, and to my excitement it actually looked reasonably clear. I rushed to put on appropriate layers before the clouds could roll in again. After taking a bunch of images, I decided to set up a time-lapse and leave it going while I go back to sleep. No problem right, just wake up in the morning and pick up my camera?! As I lay in bed the usual nervousness of leaving a camera out in the open at night was going through my head. I could hear the wind picking up. Did I make sure it was levelled and low enough to the ground? Was there a chance it could rain in the next few hours? Just as I started to doze off I heard the distinct call of a lone, rogue kea. Having seen how they were behaving at sunset, I instantly had visions of this kea on top of my camera, picking it apart and  sending it falling hundreds of metres onto the glacier below. Time to layer up again and collect my camera! Luckily the kea hadn't noticed my camera, and I was able to capture about 10 seconds of footage. It had clouded over again, but the rising moon was lighting up the mountains and clouds, so I actually really liked the footage! 

Moonlit Fox Glacier

The kind of sunrise photographers dream of when in epic locations like this!

Being treated to pink, candy-floss skies at sunrise was just the icing on the cake (excuse the bad pun). I couldn't believe the conditions we had during the trip, we really couldn't have asked for better. As the low cloud started to make its way up the valley we sensed it was probably time to pack up and get out of there rather than push our luck. Thankfully, the team at HeliServicesNZ were just a radio call away. We informed them that we would like an earlier pick up and within 15 minutes the chopper had landed and was ready to take us back to Fox Glacier township. Please note I am in no way affiliated with them, but HeliServicesNZ were awesome to deal with and I highly recommend them if you would like to explore the Fox Glacier area from above: https://www.heliservices.nz/foxglacier/.

Please also check out and support the Kea Conservation Trust. They do some amazing work and it was so heartwarming to see so many of these birds looking healthy, I really hope they stay that way. https://www.keaconservation.co.nz/. If you have any more questions I am more than happy to answer them.

Also big thanks to the legends Rachel Stewart and Daniel Murray for making this trip happen. Make sure you follow their amazing photography through their websites https://www.rachstewartphotography.com/ and https://danielmurray.nz/ respectively and on all social media channels.

All images and time-lapse included in this blog and anywhere on my website are available for purchase or licensing. Please send me an email at jburden14@gmail.com to discuss further or click here

Thanks for reading this far. I will leave you with the time-lapse I took at sunset!


Jack Burden

Fox Glacier Sunset