Fox Glacier

Photo © Ian_N

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia New Zealand South Island Fox Glacier

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Introduction

The Fox Glacier is a 13-kilometre long glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. Getting on the glacier here is a much cheaper option than at the Franz Josef Glacier, 20 kilometres to the north.

At 13 km long, Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe is the longest New Zealand glacier, falling 2,600 metres from its start just below Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman to where it terminates in lush temperate rain forest just 250 metres above sea level. The rapid descent and accessibility make the West Coast's glaciers unique.

A special combination of climate and shape means that Fox Glacier moves approximately 10 times quicker than other valley glaciers around the world, making its terminal face and ice features look quite different from one year to the next. At Fox Glacier this is due to the funnel-like shape of the glacial valley and the huge nevé (the snow accumulation area, at the top of the glacier). Fox Glacier’s nevé is 36 km², bigger than the whole of the city of Christchurch!

The weather in the area is very variable and prone to change, so bring layers. Mornings are generally clear, though clouds start to gather in the afternoon, which may lead to cancelled tours, slippery walks and poor photography conditions. Winter is drier and there might be fresh snow on the glacier, but the roads will be icier.

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Sights and Activities

A walk to see Fox Glacier is a rather ethereal experience, as it passes through a valley carved by the moving ice. There are several signposts that signal when and where the terminal face of the glacier used to be.

  • Unguided walk, Fox Glacier Access Rd (8 km from the town centre to the glacier car park, turn left before Fox River bridge). It's roughly a 1- to 2-hour round-trip trek to the glacier. The track can be cumbersome in places, requiring balance to scramble down slick rocks and across small streams, but still easy enough for inexperienced trampers. Unlike Franz Josef, the glacier will not be in sight for some parts of the walk, but you can get much closer to it. Do not proceed past the barriers at the terminal face of the glacier, as the area is extremely dangerous. Two tourists were killed by falling ice after they crossed the barriers in 2009. If you want to step onto the ice, take a guided walk. As of Apr 2019, the Fox Glacier access road (north road of Fox River) is closed due to landslide. Glacier View Road (south road of Fox River) is also closed to vehicles but you can walk on the road. Free.
  • Fox Glacier Guiding, ☏ +64 3 751-0825, toll-free: 0800 111 600. The most experienced New Zealand glacier guiding company, offering guided trips onto the glacier. There's the Fox Trot: half-day walk, Flying Fox: heli-hike, Nimble Fox: all-day walk, Fox Trail: Terminal Face walk, Fox It Up: ice-climbing adventure, Chancellor Dome day and overnight heli-treks. The heli-hikes have limited spaces, so booking beforehand could guarantee a spot. $69-700.

Several helicopter services operate out of Fox Glacier township and offer breathtaking flights over the glacier and the Southern Alps, weather permitting. It's a marvellous aerial view that demonstrates the vastness of the slow moving frozen river, with an option to make a snow landing on the nevé. An early morning flight could get you to the top of Fox Glacier, just as the sun rises over Aoraki/Mt Cook.

  • Fox & Franz Josef Heliservices (Fox Glacier Guiding Building), ☏ +64 3 752-0793, toll-free: 0800 800 793. Flights last for 20-40 minutes, from a simple fly-around and glacier landings, to an extended flight for a closer look at Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and a loop towards Franz Josef Glacier. $195-375.
  • Skydive Fox Glacier, toll-free: 0800 751 0080. Take a tandem jump. This is probably the best place in New Zealand to skydive thanks to its amazing scenery. $225-500 depending on height and options

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Getting There

Like nearby Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, with its terminal face an easy walk from Fox Glacier village/Weheka. It is a major tourist attraction and about 1000 people daily visit it during high tourist season. Though people are told not to, some go beyond the barriers and climb without guides onto the glacier, whose rapid advance creates dangers of sudden ice and rockfalls.

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This is version 10. Last edited at 9:26 on Jul 1, 19 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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