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All about Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier is one of the two little towns and big glaciers which make up ‘Glacier Country, on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. There are a couple of things which make this Kiwi glacier really cool and a must for your New Zealand tour. First of all Fox is at a really low altitude which makes it super easy to get to, secondly, the glacial valley is surrounded by rainforest. Hang on a minute, glacier, in rainforest? Surely not? But yes, this is New Zealand remember! The other cool thing about Fox Glacier is that it’s so close to the sea, make the trip out to Gillespies beach, stand on the waves breaking around your feet, the rainforest is right in front of you and the snowy peaks and glaciers of the Southern Alps just beyond. This what you’re coming to New Zealand for right?
Here’s MoaTrek’s 'Fox Glacier 101 Travel Guide’ - How to get there, how to fit it into your trip, weather, what you have to see and do plus a Kiwi travel tip or two.
Kiwi Favourites in Fox Glacier
Obviously you’re here to see the ice, it’s one of the best places anywhere in the world to get really close to a glacier easily and safely. Most people head up the main valley to the carpark and walk up to the terminal face lookout from there. When you’re standing right in the middle of the valley you will be in awe of the sheer power of nature, how can this entire valley have been carved out of rock by ice moving only centimetres a year? There are also a couple of other little spots close by which also offer great views with less people - the Chalet Lookout track or for the really keen the Chancellor Dome hike.
Other favourites we remember from family holidays around Fox are Lake Matheson and Gillespies beach, they’re down the same road just out of the township and you can visit both in half a day, it’s a gravel road out to the beach, but pretty much any vehicle can get out there.
How to fit the Glaciers into your New Zealand tour
If you want to visit Fox Glacier (and you should!), then it means travelling the length of the West Coast, between the Southern Lakes (Wanaka & Queenstown) and either Christchurch (via Arthur’s Pass) and the Nelson / Abel Tasman area. The mistake we see people making all the time is trying to do too much, there’s something new to discover at every twist and turn of the road, take your time! Allow a couple of days for the coast, if you’re looking at a tour, one night only between Christchurch and the Southern Lakes makes it a real rush! We actually recommend 3 nights on the coast, split between Glacier Country and Punakaiki.
Suggested itinerary for Fox Glacier from Queenstown / Wanaka
Stay Wanaka the previous evening, travel one day to Fox - visit the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek, Ship Creek, Lake Matheson & Gillespies Beach on route, overnight in Fox township, early morning Fox Glacier tour (self guided valley walk, guided glacier hiking or helicopter flights), if you’ve got the time, travel on to Franz Josef Glacier and Okarito lagoon for another night.
How to get to Fox Glacier
Here’s a quick guide on getting to Fox Glacier from the main visitor centres in New Zealand.
Domestic Flights to Fox Glacier: There’s no domestic airport in Fox Glacier, just a small airfield which the scenic flight operators use. The closest regional airport is in Hokitika, which is 160km (100 miles away), on the windy West Coast Roads allow 2.5 hours plus stops. You can only fly to Hokitika from Christchurch, the flight takes 45 minutes, but it’s easy to get to Christchurch from Auckland, Wellington or anywhere else there is an airport.
From Queenstown to Fox Glacier: Bus or drive, the distance is 330 km (205 miles), all the travel guides say it takes a little over 4 hours but we’ve done this trip lots of times and know it takes a lot more. You want to enjoy yourself, that’s why we always travel from Wanaka, not Queenstown, to Glacier Country.
From Wanaka to Fox Glacier: See above. We reckon to enjoy all the stops along the way this 260km (160 mile) journey needs 5 hours, including stops. If you compare this to travel times on the motorways back home we know it sounds like way too much time, but these are not motorways and when you pull up at somewhere like Ship Creek and see dolphins just off the beach, who wants to miss this because you’ve got a long drive ahead? Take it slow, that’s what we do.
From Christchurch to Fox Glacier: The total distance is just over 400 km (250 miles), we reckon you shouldn’t try to do this in one day. Break it up with a night in Punakaiki (you won’t want to leave) or think about taking the TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth, leave the driving to someone else for that section and you can concentrate on the views.
From Abel Tasman National Park / Nelson to Fox Glacier: After reading what we’ve written above we know you won’t even think about making this trip non stop, good on you! The more direct route is the inland route on State Highway 7 but we reckon you’ll like the Buller Gorge and spending a night (or two) in Punakaiki better! If you really want to know it’s 500 km (300 miles) by road from Abel Tasman to Fox Glacier.
Our favourite things to do at Fox Glacier
Self guided or guided walks on the terminal face track from the Glacier Access Road. Short and easy, just a little sharp climb at the end. You’ll get to within a few hundred metres of the ice, walk on access to the glacier is now closed to everyone.
The Chalet Lookout Walk. From the ‘Glacier View Road’ on the other side of the river, a slightly more difficult walk to an elevated lookout which is a few miles from the glacier itself.
Combine a glacier walk with Lake Matheson for the perfect half day walking, finish off with a coffee or lunch at Matheson Cafe (the best restaurant in Fox Glacier by miles!)
Guided Glacier Walks, Heli Hiking and Ice Climbing. There is a guided walk in the main valley which is a good way to get away from the crowds, but the views are not so different from the public track. The only way to actually get out on the ice is a heli hike or ice climbing tour with the guided walking company in Fox. They’re real pros and have been around since 1974 and will look after you.
Scenic Flights and Helicopter Tours: Want to see all the glaciers and Mt Cook from air? This is for you. Lots of different options including snow landings, helicopters and fixed wing flights. Allow time in your schedule for the weather.
Weather in Fox Glacier
We can’t have all this marvellous rainforest and glacial landscapes without a bit of precipitation, and ‘Glacier Country’ does get its fair share. Keep an eye on the weather, talk to your tour guide and build time into your itinerary so you don’t miss out. Our tip - don’t try and ‘game’ the weather, just book your trip for when you want and leave it in the hands of the weather gods!
Fox Glacier Average Temperature:
• Summer, December - February. High: 77F, 25C Low: 54F, 12C.
• Autumn / Fall, March - May. High: 63F, 17C Low: 48F, 9C.
• Winter, June - August. High:.57F, 15C Low: 41F, 5C.
• Spring, September - November. High: 63F, 17C Low: 48F, 9C.
If we had to choose one thing to do in Fox Glacier
You have to get out on the ice if you can. We know it’s not for everyone, but we love the Chancellor Dome Hike. You combine a helicopter flight with lunch up a little hut which feels like it’s perched on the edge of the world, a great hike out on a remote section of the glacier and above the ice in the surrounding valley. The stunning views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman from the air after your hike will make all your friends back home jealous!
Other Fox Glacier favourites - The views of the Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach and the Chalet Lookout track. A little more ‘off the beaten track’ than the main spots.
Something you can’t do anywhere except in Fox Glacier
There aren’t many places in the world you can visit a glacier, rainforest and go to the beach in the same day, well at Fox you can do all this before lunch! Here’s how: get up early to check out the glacier at the terminal face track, walk all the way back to the village through the rainforest track, then head out to Gillespies Beach. Stop in for lunch and a coffee at the excellent Matheson Cafe on the way back to town, scroll through all those awesome photos and take a few more of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman without leaving your seat on the deck.
Something you don’t know about Fox Glacier
Fox was originally a farming settlement, those lovely flat plains around the town and out near Lake Matheson are perfect for raising stock and there was gold mining out at Gillespies Beach. The tradition for the local Fox men is for them to mine the gold for their bride’s wedding rings out at the beach! Two families originally settled Fox, not quite like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but a lot of people in town will affiliate with either the Williams or the Sullivans!
Kiwi Tip for Fox Glacier
We love Fox, but we’ve come to realise we’re not the only ones. In recent years, access to the the glaciers has become really reduced for safety reasons. You used to be able to walk up and on to both Fox and Franz Josef glaciers but you no longer can, so the valley tracks can get pretty busy at certain times of year / day. The national park staff do a fantastic job of keeping us all safe, they control the route off pretty tightly, so everyone is restricted to the same trail. So our tip here is to think a little outside the square, if you’re staying in Fox get up early to beat the crowds. Look at some of the other less popular tracks like the Chalet Lookout or head out to Gillespies Beach, you’re not as close to the glacier but there will be much less people.
Visiting Fox Glacier with MoaTrek
If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that we preach travelling slowly, and that’s exactly what we do on the West Coast and in Glacier Country. The night before we hit the coast we stay in Wanaka, we’ve had lots of trips over this road up to Glacier Country over the years so your Kiwi guide knows all the best spots, like the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek and Ship Creek, you’ll love being able to take your time on the ‘Heritage Highway’ and leave the driving to a pro. At Fox we’ll check out the terminal face track and Lake Matheson, and stay two nights in Glacier Country to discover more of our secret spots the next day.
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