Whilst a visit to New Zealand’s Fox Glacier is often associated with ice picks and crampons or extortionate tour fees, Alex Kostas found a free way to get to those incredible glacier views via a straightforward 2km stroll.
Thanks to our Explorer crew in New Zealand for letting us know that this trail is currently closed off. 150m of the road accessing the Fox Glacier valley was washed away so there’s currently no access to the walk, and it’s highly likely there won’t be any for quite some time. You can still see the glacier from across the valley at a viewpoint on a clear day, and the Franz Josef Glacier valley walk is open but Fox valley isn’t.
- Being surrounded by huge cliff faces, carved by the retreating glacier
- Crystal clear glacial river and cobalt blue glacial lake
- Extend the hike by crossing an original wooden suspension bridge
- Multiple views of the famous Fox Glacier
The Fox Glacier
While New Zealand is famous for day hikes, the Fox and Franz-Josef glaciers are famous for the high prices of their on-glacier experiences! Luckily there is a way to experience the Fox Glacier (or Te Moeka o Tuawe) for free.
My group started from the carpark at the end of Glacier View Road in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, where a track (depending on the time of year) leads to a wooden suspension bridge that crosses the Fox River. The bridge is a beautiful addition to an already adventurous trail.
The trail then follows the Fox Glacier Access Road, which plunges through the temperate rainforest to where the glacial valley begins. We also passed by a bright blue lake of freezing water. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we hadn’t brought our swimmers.
A Prehistoric View
After the lake, the trail passed through the main carpark for the Fox Glacier to a marked trail that leads to the glacier viewing area, and this is where we got up close with the truly immense size of the valley.
I actually became slightly dizzy as I took in just how humongous the cliffs surrounding us were. The bottom of the valley is a flat alluvial plain, with the Fox River carving through it and giant moraines (boulders formed by glaciers) peppered throughout. The cliffs either side of us were craggy, moss covered, and ancient looking. It was like we were walking into a giant prehistoric fishbowl, and we were insignificant minnows compared to it all.
We eventually crested the track and were rewarded for our efforts by a view of the glacial face and snow-capped mountains. It seems likely that with the current pace of global warming, this beautiful and unique wall of ice is retreating even further into the mountains. I strongly recommend that you go and see it for yourself before it’s too late.
- Good hiking boots
- Multiple layers of clothing
- First Aid kit (loose gravel and stones everywhere)
- Food and water
- Camera gear (note: no drone photography allowed due to low-flying helicopters landing on the glacier).
How To Get There
The hike we took was from the end of Glacier View Road but if closed you can start your hike from anywhere along the Fox Glacier Access Road (you’ll just miss out on the sweet suspension bridge).
Beginner along the valley floor itself. Intermediate if you link up from the end of the Glacier View Road.
Distance / Elevation
The entire hike we did is roughly 2km in distance, with an elevation gain of around 50-100m.