The Fox Glacier

Zig Ziglar……the American author says…Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations…This saying can be interpreted metaphorically to our life events. But here it’s not metaphorical….it’s physical….

After a difficult but scenic drive from Queenstown along the Haast Pass ( about which was my last blog),we were at the beautiful small town of Fox Glacier….. justifying what Zig Ziglar said!!

The Fox Glacier Town

Called Weheka in Maori, this town is actually a tiny village on the west coast of south island in New Zealand. It was renamed Fox Glacier after a visit by the then Premier of NZ, William Fox . State highway 6 (Haast Pass road) passes through this village as it leads to another glacier; the Franz Josef Glacier.

The village serves two important tourist destinations. The Fox Glacier itself and Lake Matheson. The town is famous for the glacier hikes and helicopter rides.

We stayed at the beautiful Bella Vista Hotel. The views from the hotel were awesome.

Fox Glacier Town

The Bella Vista Hotel

The Fox Glacier

The specialty of this glacier is its close proximity to the Tasman Sea. No where else in the world are there glaciers so close to the coastline and that makes Franz Josef and Fox glaciers truly unique.

The glacier is 13km long and is located in the Tai Poutini National Park. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world with its terminal phase as low as 300 meters above sea level about 6 km from fox glacier town.

Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier descends from a height of 2600m above sea level in the Southern Alps into the temperate rain forests just 300 m above sea level. The outflow from the glacier forms the Fox River. During the ice age, the ice retreated and left behind many moraines. Lake Matheson( which we visit next) is one such lake.

Fox Glacier

Fox River originating from the glacier

Primarily there are two modes of visiting the glacier…by hiking or by helicopter. Helicopter rides can be booked from the counters in the town and they take you to the top of the glacier. Bad weather is a constant threat to these trips and one must have sufficient time at hand to deal with such delays.

Helicopter rides to the glacier are very popular

There are about 30 different walking tracks around the Franz Josef and Fox glacier areas. Hiking guides are available and one can hike as per one’s capacity from simple walks along the glacier edge to rugged and strenuous hikes up the glacier.

Some of the popular tracks are: Southside Walkway and Fox glacier Valley Walk

Southside walk is a 6 km walking/cycling track that follows the south bank of the Fox River through a rain forest. A 40 minute walk takes one to a view point of the glacier. Cycling is not allowed beyond this point.

Views from South side walk…Fox Glacier

Valley Walk

This is shorter and around 2.6 km

We did this walk and could access the terminal portion of the glacier from around 200mts away . The initial part of the track is not very steep. The slope is gradual and one can follow a stream which we had to jump across several times. Gradually the steepness of the track changed and the final part was a rather steep climb . But we were rewarded with these views at the end….

Terminal portion of the glacier

A close up of the terminal part of the glacier

Another view of the glacier from a distance

Apart from this trek on to the glacier, is an easy wheelchair friendly walk called the Minnehaha Walk from near the town following a stream through the rain forests with the bonus of seeing glowworms at night. This is a loop walk of around 1.2 km and can be easily done in around 30 mins along a rain forest.

Minnehaha walk through rainforest

We did this trip to the Fox Glacier in 2018. I understand that there have been considerable changes here after that. The road to the iconic Fox glacier was closed in 2019 . A severe storm in February 2019 caused a massive landslide . Flooding following heavy rains in March 2019, caused further damage to the road . Tons of rock and gravel came crashing down to the Fox valley and destroyed the causeway and the car park areas. This landslide was New Zealand’s largest active landslide and is called the Alpine Gardens landslide.

After this, the reestablishment of road access was considered impractical and the road was indefinitely closed.

Helicopter rides to the glacier, and scenic flights to Franz Josef are still happening. The economic impact of this closure on the township is huge but the other activities for which it is a hub still continue. One such great place to visit from Fox Glacier township is none other than Lake Matheson…the iconic lake of New Zealand.

Next week we visit this Lake and I promise you some breathtaking views. Till then, its bye from Fox Glacier…

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