Frozen Footsteps // Fox Glacier (NZ)

Walking on the surface of Fox Glacier is probably as close as you’ll get to planet hopping and it’s definitely not something that you’ll regret.


Highlights

  • Walking on the surface of Fox Glacier
  • Exploring the rainforest around Lake Matheson
  • Finding glow worms in the forest

An early start

Dawn breaks the black sky. A yellow streak of light peers over New Zealand’s jagged peaks. From this point, a pale blue wave spreads across the sky. It’s like a fallen paint bucket, seeping across the floor. It’s unusual for me to start this early. But I have the opportunity to walk on the surface of a glacier.

A ten-minute bus ride takes me to the Fox Glacier car park. A vibrant blue pool surrounds the dirt lot. The water glows from earthy depths. It’s glacial water melting from dead ice underground (ice that has broken away from the glacier).

It’s a short hike (roughly 1 km) up the mountain to the terminal face (the foot of the glacier). The retreating ice has left the valley bare. Landslides dot the now unstable walls. Hazard signs warn hikers to proceed through more turbulent areas. I scamper over stone and loose dirt until I see the distant white river.

Walking on the glacier

The temperature drops as I descend the valley wall. Securing crampons, I take a few tentative steps onto the glacier. The ice crunches under the metal spikes. Growing in confidence, I stamp down, digging into the shelf. Small transparent flakes of ice spray with each step.

There are several small crevasses. I carefully edge through one of the larger tunnels. It opens to a serac, a towering mountain of ice. At its base is a glacial pool. It’s mesmerising, glowing even deeper than the one in the car park.

Water beads glisten as the sun bounces off the white surface. It’s an incredible walk. Mount Cook and Mount Tasman loom above the neve (the top of the glacier) and Lake Matheson stretches below. This is the only place in the world, where a glacier meets a rainforest.

Through the rainforest

I walk around the lake, on the other side of town. The sparse body of water was formed from melting ice. Ducks glide on the surface. I see them between moss covered trees. The forest is ancient. Tree ferns fill the canopy beneath 65-metre tall white pines. Streams trickle through a green maze of ferns and moss covered rocks.

At night, I return to the forest to search for glow worms. Having seen them in Australia, I search for a small cave. Yet they dwell in a different environment here. I venture some way into the forest. However, I turn back, for fear of getting lost. A dot of light suddenly appears in my peripheral, outside the torch beam. I turn off my light and see a thousand eyes staring back at me. They follow me as I move through the trees. The rainfall is so high that the glow worms survive in the trees, a village in the moss.

It’s an odd encounter and I recover with a drink at the pub. Australia is playing New Zealand in the Rugby Union. I stay quiet as the only Aussie in the room. A patron yells at the TV between drinks. Despite this, the locals are friendly and it’s a fun way to unwind in Fox Glacier.

Essential Gear

  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • Headlamp/torch
  • Wet weather clothing/snow gear
  • Crampons (provided by Fox Glacier Guiding)
  • A guide if walking on the glacier (Fox Glacier Guiding)

How To Get There

Fox Glacier car park (start of walk)

Lake Matheson walk

Activities

  • Walking / hiking
  • Photography
  • Glow worms

Skill Level

Easy

Distance Covered

Approx. 5.1 kms. A 2.5 km return walk to the glacier and a 2.6 km walk around Lake Matheson.


Check out these other New Zealand activities…

Flying Above Snowcapped Mountains // Milford Sound (NZ)

Te Araroa Trail // What I Learned Hiking The Length of NZ

Heaven On Earth // Tapeka Point Track (NZ)

Road Trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound (NZ)