If you’re planning on vacationing in New Zealand and are looking for some off-beat adventure, Fox Glacier has definitely got to be on the card.
Part of the world-renowned ‘Glacier Country’ on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Fox Glacier, or more popularly known as Fox Glacier is one of the most revered tourist destinations you can find in the country, and all for good reasons.
The place is unlike any other you might have been and is sure to surprise you in more ways than one.
Fox Glacier Town Guide
What makes Fox Glacier a must-visit?
It is not often that you can boast of having walked on a glacier, let alone seeing one.
And when you think of glaciers, you’re probably picturing thick sheets of ice all around and an empty white expanse of land.
Well, that’s where Fox Glacier will blow your mind away – the glacier is surrounded by lush green rainforest and the sea beach is just about 20kms away!
At over 3,000 meters above sea level, high in the Southern Alps, it is also one of the lowest altitude glaciers in the world.
This means you do NOT need to be an experienced hiker or mountaineer to manoeuvre your way around!
So, before we lose another of nature’s marvels to man-made devastation, pack those woollens and fly down to witness the grandeur and magnificence of the Southern Alps in all its splendour.
How to reach Fox Glacier?
If you’re a foreign tourist, then the two closest international airports would be Queenstown and Christchurch.
Queenstown is about 330 km away and you can take a bus or drive down a 5-hour scenic route.
Christchurch is about 400 km away and you can stop over at Punakaiki for the night if you’re driving.
You can also opt for the TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth.
The closest regional airport to Fox Glacier Town is in Hokitika, which is 160km away and you can get a 45-minute flight from Christchurch.
Another popular road trip is from Wanaka to Fox Glacier which takes about 5 hours and boasts of some picturesque stops like Ship Creek.
The travelling is definitely going to be worth it, but remember to keep at least 2 nights in hand or else you will be rushing through the glacier site without much time to take in all that breathtaking panorama.
Which are the most popular tourist destinations of Fox Glacier Town?
A hike or helicopter ride to the glacier is, of course, the focal point of the journey, but it doesn’t end there. A walk through the luscious forest, a sip of warm coffee by Lake Matheson, and a soothing view of the sunset at Gillespies Beach should feature in your itinerary as well.
Which is the best season to visit Fox Glacier Town?
You can visit Fox Glacier Town all through the year; however, be prepared for sudden showers at any time.
Winters can get quite chilly. So, if you’re not used to freezing climates, summer is your best bet.
Where to stay in Fox Glacier Town?
There are multiple options available for tourists of all budgets. Some of our recommendations would be Lake Matheson Motel, Distinction Fox Glacier Hotel, and Bella Vista Motel.
What to do in Fox Glacier Town?
A good beginning would be to stay at Wanaka the night before and drive to Fox Glacier through the next day.
There are plenty of interesting things to keep you engaged in your journey – the Blue Pools, Fantail Falls, Thunder Creek, Ship Creek, Lake Matheson, and the Gillespies Beach.
Lake Matheson Cafe by the lake is a must-visit for their delicious serves.
You can either walk around the entire lake (should take you about one and a half hours) or up to a jetty viewpoint and back.
Lake Matheson is famously known as “mirror lake” for the crystal clear reflections in its deep waters.
On a clear day, you could actually be lucky to see reflections of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman.
Put up at Fox Glacier Town for the night and start with your glacier tour in the morning again.
Heli hikes are now the only way to get close to Fox Glacier. Access to the main view by Driving & on Foot has been restricted.
Walk through the rainforest to reach the terminal face of the glacier. The Chalet Lookout Walk from the ‘Glacier View Road’ on the other side of the river is an arduous but worthwhile way to reach close to the glacier.
The only way to step on to the glacier is a Heli Hike or ice climbing tour with any guided walking company in Fox Glacier.
Trust them and follow their instructions to make the most out of this journey.
There have been several accidents when tourists have tried to veer away from the prescribed route, so don’t try to be unnecessarily adventurous!
The standard Heli-Hike should take about 3-4 hours to complete. It will begin at approximately 800 metres (2,625 feet) above sea level, flying past the stunning Victoria Falls before landing onto Fox Glacier.
For those of you who can afford it, do not miss the helicopter tour.
You will not only get a bird’s eye view of the glacier but also see the entire expanse of the Southern Alps unfolding before you.
This is a sight you will not be able to explain through any photograph – you gotta see it to believe it!
Special mention: Try the Chancellor Dome Hike. It combines a helicopter tour with an overnight stay at Chancellor Hut at the summit of a dome 2,004 metres above sea level. Y
ou can have your warm dinner here while watching the Tasman Sea ebbing and flowing below. We only have one word to describe it… surreal!
For the adrenaline junkie, skydiving over Fox Glacier is a rush that will keep you high for days. Give it a serious thought even if you have never tried it before.
End your journey at Gillespies Beach. If you have time (and energy!), take a walk with views of the Southern Alps behind and the Tasman Sea in front, as well as see the mining tunnels and tramping track to the next beach over with a seal colony.
Trivia: Gillespies beach was renowned for its gold mining and the tradition amongst locals was to mine for the gold for their bride’s ring.
Tips for Travellers
- Don’t try to rush through everything in one day. You will be left panting for breath.
- If you’re opting for the walk/hike, wear a sturdy pair of leather boots, plenty of waterproof layers, sunglasses, and also carry some food and water to keep you going till the end of the hike.
- On the Heli-Hike atop the glacier, most of the essentials will be provided by your tour operator. Do not carry any backpack or luggage with you. It is not safe to weigh yourself down.
- Keep a balancing pole and wear warm caps and gloves to keep yourself comfortable.
Your New Zealand experience is seriously incomplete without a stop-over at Fox Glacier Town. Put it in your itinerary right away. You can thank us later!
For more New Zeland reading check out 4 of the best hikes in New Zealand you can do.
Pick up the Lonely Planet New Zealand Guide to help plan your trips there.