The Ice Caves of the Majestic Fox Glacier.
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Schedule of the Visit.
- 1A Day at Fox Glacier.
- 2Join the Expedition.
- 3Through the Forest to the Glacier.
- 4Explore Stunning Ice Caves.
- 5Fox Glacier or Franz Joseph?
1A Day at Fox Glacier.
Rudyard Kipling, the author of The Jungle Book considered the West Coast of New Zealand as the wildest region.
A journey in hostile territory where the subtropical forests surround mountains and glaciers.
In the 19th century, the thirst for gold attract prospectors, but the climate is so difficult that mines are soon abandoned to vegetation.
The humidity is such that the foam covers the trees to the branches.
Five meters of rain falls a year and even Maori warriors do not venture into this green hell.
The discovery of Fox Glacier is one of the country's best activities.
Today, the region is still sparsely inhabited, but the Westland National Park is very popular.
Thousands of tourists come to admire the Fox Glacier which takes its source in the eternal snow.
The giant of ice stretches on 13 km and moves at a rate of a meter per day, devouring the rock in the process. Its uniqueness is to almost reach sea level, making it very accessible.
We will follow an itinerary in the forest before joining the Ice Caves. We will also need a mountain guide to lead us safely into the heart of the glacier.
This hike requires a minimum fitness, but remains open to everyone, including the youngest. If you thirst for adventure and have energy to spare, it's time to conquer the Fox Glacier in New Zealand!
2Join the Expedition.
The village of Fox Glacier serve as a base camp for hikers. The main street is limited to a few restaurants, hotels, and a small shop (expensive) where you will find the ingredients to prepare your sandwiches.
The Tasman Sea (a few kilometers from the village) gave the nickname "Coasters" to the local inhabitants.
Very welcoming, they often defy the bans of liquor sales after 6pm, and make fun of bureaucrats from the capital. But I advise saving the beers for the return trip.
The “Nimble Fox" hike is organized by Fox Glacier Guiding. It takes place during 7 hours in total, with four hours being devoted to the exploration of the glacier.
Attention, Nimble Fox is suspended until further notice because the movement of the glacier no longer allows access to the ice caves through this route. Only walks preceded by helicopter flights are maintained.
Don’t worry, the equipment is included in the price. Indicate your measures at the reception to retrieve jacket, sweater, socks, gloves and spikes shoes.
An ice ax completes the equipment and I would recommend taking a picture because you look like a South Pole explorer now.
If you came fully equipped in New Zealand, you can simply retrieve a backpack with spikes shoes (avoid using your own bag, you might get dirty).
The supplied equipment is adapted and you will neither have to dry and clean it after the tour.
I guess this is not the first time that you follow a route to the mountain. You have certainly considered sunscreen and sunglasses.
But remember to carry a small empty bottle, even if it seems absurd now, you’ll understand why later, trust me.
This is the time to meet our guide and other hikers. Since everyone is ready, we can board the old bus made in the 60s. The bus ride on the gravel road is short to reach the start point of the forest part.
3Through the Forest to the Glacier.
I expected to find an impenetrable green wall, but the forest trails are well maintained (as often in New Zealand).
If the slope is sometimes steep, most of the trip runs smoothly amid the ferns and streams.
The view on the Fox Glacier is awesome.
It has always made me think of a dam giving way with the furious waters invading the valley.
There are 15 meters of snow fall each year, and the soft snow turns to ice in no time.
In other terms, the glacier is fed each year by 15 meters of snow!
It's time to start our journey on the ice. Pay attention to the safety instructions: they must be observed all the time.
If you need help to fix the spikes, do not hesitate to ask your guide. This model is fairly simple to fix to the trek shoes.
I suggest you take a few steps on the glacier to check that everything is in order. Do not be disappointed if the surface of the ice is so dirty!
We are still close to the forest and the glacier will turn more and more clean as we gradually ascend.
The guide leads the way and probe the ground to avoid unpleasant surprises.
I do not need to insist on the strict prohibition of going off-track. It would be absurd to put yourself in great danger to take a selfie.
The glacier is alive and the whole landscape is renewed day by day. Ice crevices form and snowfalls give birth to ice arches covered of stalactites.
The tour guide must cut steps sometime in the ice or lay lines to help us cross obstacles.
We advance in a single file at the bottom of the narrowest crevices. It's exciting, but some people are already feeling a bit tired by the walk on the ice.
With already several hours of forest and ice trek, we need to pause before attacking the most beautiful part of the glacier. Take off the spikes of your shoes before joining a dry area and have a picnic on the solid rocks.
4Explore Stunning Ice Caves.
Back on the ice and more motivated than ever, we must be careful because of the wells caused by meltwater. Most of them join the heart of the glacier, and they are full of surprises.
The discovery of blue ice caves is undeniably the most beautiful moment of the day. It's like being at the bottom of the ocean! And remember that an hour ago we were at the heart of a subtropical forest...
Fortunately, we have our ice axes and spikes shoes to help us. But wait before rising to the surface! You will be able to fill your empty bottle in many pure water fountains.
According to the Maori legend, you just tasted the tears of Hine Hukatere.
A snow fairy who invited her lover to meet her at the top of Mount Cook. But the unfortunate had a deathly fall for daring to defy the gods of the mountain.
I would like to continue the ascent, but the course is more and more difficult and we already had a great time.
Another route will allow us to reach the glacier front and the valley.
We will follow the moraine, a stack of rocks and rubble that the ice giant torn from the mountains.
I always felt tiny at the foot of Fox Glacier.
An imposing ice cave appeared during the last years, but we can't explore it because the fragile arch may collapse at any time when the glacier moves.
After two centuries of withdrawal, the Fox Glacier started to move again in 1985. Over the last decade, it gained 1.6 km and was close to the Tasman Sea. But global warming slows its progression and the visit we did today will be more and more difficult to plan.
The next generations who will visit New Zealand will probably not explore the glacier as we did.
We finally reach the parking, and I must congratulate you for your seven-hour hike. Before leaving, you should take a look on the information panel which indicates the position of the glacier in the year 1750.The glacier almost reached the sea level! But I guess you prefer to take pictures of the keas, these beautiful mountain parrots that inhabit the tourist areas in search of food.
5Fox Glacier or Franz Joseph?
It was such an exceptional hike in New Zealand! Having explored subtropical forest and ice caves the same day says it all. Where on earth could you live such an experience?
Most New Zealand guides recommend to also visit the Franz Joseph.
This neighborhood Glacier is only 25 km away. But you may not have enough time and if you need to choose between the two visits, you need some advice.
If Franz Joseph is more spectacular. However, it is only accessible by helicopter if you want to visit ice caves.
Of course, we are not talking of the same budget anymore, because Helicopter flights are quite expensive!
But actually, the Nimble Fox hike at Fox Glacier is suspended until further notice, and only the hikes preceded by a helicopter flight are maintained. Under these conditions, the Franz Joseph is competitive again, and I suggest you compare prices on the tour operator’s website.
The pricing was the main reason to choose the Fox Glacier, as it was significantly more affordable than the Franz Joseph. The guide will lead you on both glaciers and you will be able to see the peaks of the mounts Cook and Tasman.
However, please note that the Fox and the Franz can be seen after a short walk in the valleys. It can be done safely without guides and for free.
This is already an extraordinary experience and guarantee to make beautiful pictures. In this case, you can very well visit both glaciers on the same day, but you won’t see the caves and neither walk on the ice.
You might consider exploring the two glaciers, and it would be tempting to book a double tour on the same day. I would not advise it, because you may get a feeling of "déjà vu".
Whatever the season, you can expect rain in this region (even if it is true that it rains less during the winter in New Zealand).
You will be refunded if the weather is too bad for the hike, but the decision to cancel a tour is often taken an hour before the start.
For the same reason, helicopter flights that I recommend are also often canceled the same day.
A short rain should not discourage you to book a tour, but remember that there are many other wonders to see in the region.
Lake Matheson which is nicknamed the "Mirror Lake" reflects the whole mountain landscape. You will find it at the end of a 6 km drive after the Fox Village.
Before giving way to Ben, our friendly Kiwi guide, I'll ask you a small favor. If you enjoyed this article, please send us pictures of your trip to Fox Glacier. We will be happy to publish them on Kiwipal.
Questions & Answers.
What can I do for you? As far as I'm concerned, I prefer the Franz Joseph Glacier. But Guillaume is right to recommend the Fox if you are passing through the area. Ask your questions, I always answer with great pleasure!
- All topics ... 30 answers in total
- Safety Instructions 7 answers
- Weather Forecast of the Glacier 6 answers
- Excursions to the Glacier 5 answers
- Accommodation 2 answers
- Transports 2 answers
- Animal Species 2 answers
- History and Geography 2 answers
- Helicopter Tour 2 answers
- Practical Information 2 answers
- Why is it forbidden to approach the front of the glacier?
Because blocks of ice can detach without warning.
- Who supervises the excursions on the glacier?
The guides come from all over the world, and most are not New Zealanders. But they are experienced high mountain guides.
- Is there a risk of slipping?
The crampons and the walking sticks make the falls infrequent and without gravity.
- What is the minimum age for climbing?
One must be at least 7 years old.
- In the valley, why is the path sign-posted?
The barriers are arranged according to the risks of sudden floods of the rivers. The fall of blocks of stone or ice can cause rivers to emerge where they did not exist.
- Are not all these security measures exaggerated?
A couple of Australians died in 2009 after crossing the security zone. About a hundred tons of ice has dislodged from the wall without warning.
- People venture on the glacier without a guide ... So what?
They are crazy people! The more you venture into the glacier, the more likely you are to fall into a snow-covered crevice or well. By admitting that one survives, one must pay the rescue team bill... Enough to ruin a family.
Weather Forecast of the Glacier
- What's the weather like at Fox Glacier?
The temperature varies between 0 and 25 ° C.
- Is it raining a lot in the area?
About one day out of two (count 178 rainy days a year).
- What is the best season to climb the Fox Glacier?
Winter is the season when it rains the least. Apart from this criterion, you can come all the year, one must carry a wax in the backpack during this part of the trip, just in case.
- Can I get a refund in case of bad weather?
Yes, unless it is just a fine rain.
- Can we wear light clothes in summer?
In summer and in good weather, you might consider shorts. But the weather is very unstable. The ideal is to keep a sweatshirt in your backpack to wear if necessary.
- Can we catch a cold on the ice?
If you're properly dressed, there's no reason. Especially since the jackets and shoes that are lent to you for the hike are perfectly adapted.
Excursions to the Glacier
- Would you recommend the half-day outing?
It has a good reputation, but I find that we spend too little time on the ice. You do not go up high enough to explore ice caves. And at low altitude, the ice is covered with dirty debris that spoils the view a bit.
- Do we need to book the activities in advance?
Whatever the chosen hike, booking is essential during the high season. Ideally, join the first visit of the day to avoid the crowd. There are a thousand visitors a day, but most just approach the front of the glacier.
- Are there any hiking trails near Fox Glacier?
From the main car park, the best path makes it possible to approach up to 80m from the front of the glacier. "River Walk" is a more challenging hike (one hour and a half round trip from Glacier Road). After crossing a suspension bridge of 70m, you continue in the forest to a superb point of view on the glacier. Other trails like Minnehaha Walk or Moraine Walk make it possible to reach charming views. Finally, the ultimate hike from Mount Fox Track will make you sweat for 8 hours but offers an extraordinary panorama.
- How many visitors are there in a group?
There is a maximum of 12 people, which allows to move fast enough.
- Can I take a camera?
Yes, and you can ask your guide to take a picture.
- How to stay in the region?
There are Lodges and camping at Fox Glacier. But if you travel to the village of Franz Joseph, the choice will be much more consistent.
- What is the best village to get accommodation?
The Franz Joseph Village offers more accommodation possibilities and has more restaurants. But accommodation at the Fox Glacier facilitates access to Lake Matheson...
- Is the hike at the foot of the glacier paying?
Access to the front of the glacier is free.
- Can we feed keas?
This is forbidden because our food makes them sick and they must learn to feed themselves to ensure the survival of the species.
History and Geography
- Where does the glacier get its name from?
From William Fox, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1869 to 1872, who climbed and baptized it with his own name.
- Where is the Fox Glacier?
In the heart of the 88,000 hectares of Westland National Park of New Zealand.
- Can we fly over the Fox Glacier?
The panoramic flights with or without landing allow to fly over the Fox Glacier and / or the Franz Joseph.Flight over the Fox Glacier by Helicopter
- Do you recommend the helicopter tour?
If you have the means, it is an extraordinary experience. The weather often leads to a cancellation of the flight at the last minute, but you will be refunded in this case.
- Is there an iSite in the village of Fox Glacier?
There is no i-Site but the office of the Department of Conservation makes it possible to know the state of hiking trails. It is open from 9am to noon and from 1pm to 4:30 pm.
- Is there an ATM on site?
There is no ATM at Fox Glacier (but it's planned).
On the Country Map
The Fox Glacier is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, on the South Island (West Coast region).
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