Fox Glacier village is in "Glacier Country" on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. Tucked discreetly into the rainforest-clad foothills of the Southern Alps, it has a stunning outlook across surrounding farms and offers breathtaking views of New Zealand’s two highest peaks, Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. The tiny township was founded from a gold strike which soon petered out, and it now mostly serves as a base for visitors to its large icy namesake. There's a quiet, intimate village atmosphere compared to the other glacier town, Franz Josef.
At 13 km long, Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe is the longest New Zealand glacier, falling 2,600 metres (8,000 ft) from its start just below Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman to where it terminates in lush temperate rain forest just 250 m above sea level. The rapid descent and accessibility make the West Coast's glaciers unique.
A special combination of climate and shape means that Fox Glacier moves approximately 10 times quicker than other valley glaciers around the world, making its terminal face and ice features look quite different from one year to the next. At Fox Glacier this is due to the funnel-like shape of the glacial valley and the huge nevé (the snow accumulation area, at the top of the glacier). Fox Glacier’s nevé is 36 km², bigger than the whole of the city of Christchurch!
The weather in the area is very variable and prone to change, so bring layers. Mornings are generally clear, though clouds start to gather in the afternoon, which may lead to cancelled tours, slippery walks and poor photography conditions. Winter is drier and there might be fresh snow on the glacier, but the roads will be icier.
Drive on State Highway 6. The drive from Franz Josef is about 30 minutes.
- From the south, travel from Queenstown approximately 4½ hours by car, Wanaka approximately 3 hr by car, Haast approximately 1½ hr by car.
- From the north, travel from Christchurch approximately 5½ hr by car, Greymouth approximately 2½ hr by car and Hokitika approximately 2 hr by car.
The following locations offer bus bookings through various bus companies.
The village is small and all accommodation is within walking distance of the centre. Fox Tours and Shuttles, 0800 369 287, will shuttle people to outlying destinations like Fox Glacier, Lake Matheson and Gillepsies Beach for $12 and up.
Sunrise at Lake Matheson, sunset at Gillespies Beach and glacier viewing in between makes for a pretty great day.
- 1 Lake Matheson (5 minutes' drive from Fox township). Take the 1½-hr walk around the lake to see the beautiful reflection of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman on its dark waters. The lake was formed during the last Ice Age retreat by Fox Glacier 14,000 years ago. The track is well maintained, and there are board walks and specially made platforms for getting the right angle for your pictures. The best light is at dawn, and it's about 20 minutes to the first lookout (and 20 minutes back if you don't want to walk the whole way) and 40 minutes to a floating pontoon.
- 2 Peak View Lookout. Drive down Cook Flat Rd for 10 km west of the township past the Lake Matheson turnoff until it becomes an unsealed road for the best view of the peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. There's a picnic area and a plane table which can be used to identify the different peaks of the Southern Alps.
- 3 Gillespies Beach (Cook Flat Rd, then Gillespies Beach Rd). An 11-km drive down a twisting unsealed road through a rimu rainforest leads to a camping area. From here, walk a bit more and you'll find yourself on a black sand/quartz pebble beach on the Tasman Sea. Near the beach entrance is the rusted and overgrown historic gold dredge, remnants of an old mining settlement. Several kilometres up the beach you can visit a seal colony on Galway Beach, which is a three-hour round-trip walk.
A walk to see Fox Glacier is a rather ethereal experience, as it passes through a valley carved by the moving ice. There are several signposts that signal when and where the terminal face of the glacier used to be.
- 1 Unguided walk, Fox Glacier Access Rd (8 km from the town centre to the glacier car park, turn left before Fox River bridge). It's roughly a 1- to 2-hour round-trip trek to the glacier. The track can be cumbersome in places, requiring balance to scramble down slick rocks and across small streams, but still easy enough for inexperienced trampers. Unlike Franz Josef, the glacier will not be in sight for some parts of the walk, but you can get much closer to it. Do not proceed past the barriers at the terminal face of the glacier, as the area is extremely dangerous. Two tourists were killed by falling ice after they crossed the barriers in 2009. If you want to step onto the ice, take a guided walk. As of Apr 2019, the Fox Glacier access road (north road of Fox River) is closed due to landslide. Glacier View Road (south road of Fox River) is also closed to vehicles but you can walk on the road. Free.
- 2 Fox Glacier Guiding, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 111 600. The most experienced New Zealand glacier guiding company, offering guided trips onto the glacier. There's the Fox Trot: half-day walk, Flying Fox: heli-hike, Nimble Fox: all-day walk, Fox Trail: Terminal Face walk, Fox It Up: ice-climbing adventure, Chancellor Dome day and overnight heli-treks. The heli-hikes have limited spaces, so booking beforehand could guarantee a spot. $69-700.
Several helicopter services operate out of Fox Glacier township and offer breathtaking flights over the glacier and the Southern Alps, weather permitting. It's a marvellous aerial view that demonstrates the vastness of the slow moving frozen river, with an option to make a snow landing on the nevé. An early morning flight could get you to the top of Fox Glacier, just as the sun rises over Aoraki/Mt Cook.
- 3 Fox & Franz Josef Heliservices (Fox Glacier Guiding Building), ☎ , toll-free: 0800 800 793. Flights last for 20-40 minutes, from a simple fly-around and glacier landings, to an extended flight for a closer look at Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and a loop towards Franz Josef Glacier. $195-375.
- Skydive Fox Glacier, toll-free: 0800 751 0080. Take a tandem jump. This is probably the best place in New Zealand to skydive thanks to its amazing scenery. $225-500 depending on height and options.
Walks on pebble-covered beaches, around lakes and through a glacial valley — and that's without heading into Fox Glacier's backcountry and less well-trodden trails. Check with the local DOC office on SH6 for maps and information.
- 4 Copland Track - Welcome Flat. 6- to 8-hr tramp one way to the Welcome Flat hot pools. Transport available with Intercity and Atomic Shuttles.
- 5 Chalet Lookout Walk (Track starts at the car park at the end of Glacier View Road). 1 hour 15 minute round-trip with a stream crossing to find a beautiful lookout point over the glacier.
- 6 Minnehaha Walk (50 m south of Fox Glacier Village on SH 6). A 20-min round trip through the rainforest on the outskirts of town. Take a torch at night to see glow worms in the tree trunks and along the banks of the stream.
- 7 Moraine Walk, Located along Glacier View Road. Tramp over moraine surface into native bush for a 40-min round trip.
- 8 Mount Fox Track (Start from the parking area on State Highway 6 just south of town). 8-hr round trip on a steep marked route through to alpine grasslands that afford views of the mountains, glacier, and the coastline.
- 9 Swing Bridge Walk (River Walk) (track starts at the car park at the end of Glacier View Road and ends at a picnic spot half way up the Glacier Access road). Walk down to the valley before crossing a historic swing bridge that spans Fox River. 40-min return.
The general store is on State Highway 6 between Cafe Neve and the Glacier Country Hotel, and there is a fuel station on the same main road.
- 1 Fox Glacier Guiding Gift Shop, 44 Main Rd, Fox Glacier, ☎ . In the Fox Glacier Guiding Building on the Main Rd, offers a range of gifts and souvenirs.
- 2 ReflectioNZ Gifts and Gallery, Lake Matheson (5 min drive from Fox Glacier), ☎ . Daily from 8:30AM. Contemporary merchandise with a New Zealand flavour: jewellery, designer merino garments, greenstone & souvenirs, New Zealand artwork & photos. Overseas shipping available. Friendly, efficient service.
Eat and drinkEdit
There's a fairly small selection of restaurants in Fox Glacier, with a few lodgings like the Fox Glacier Inn, Glacier Country Hotel and High Peaks Hotel offering in-house food. If your budget is really tight, it might be worth picking up general supplies before coming into the glacier towns.
- 1 Cafe Neve, State Highway 6, ☎ . One of the cheaper eateries in Fox Glacier. Has pizzas as daily specials.
- 2 Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon, State Highway 6, ☎ . Decorated as a rustic cabin with old antiques and paraphernalia, and even a fireplace. Serves both lunch and dinner indoors or out. Family friendly and full of local history.
- 3 Fox Glacier Guiding Cafe, State Highway 6 (Located in the Fox Glacier Guiding Building), ☎ . 7:30AM-4PM. A convenient stop before early morning guided hikes. Serves breakfast and lunch daily. Offer a range of homemade deli style food.
- 4 The Last Kitchen, Sullivan Road, ☎ . A pricier option, but the food is pretty good. Quite busy for dinner.
Further away from the village:
- 5 Lake Matheson Cafe, Lake Matheson Road (5-min drive from Fox Glacier at Lake Matheson walkway), ☎ . Nov–Mar: daily 7:30AM-late; Apr–Oct 8AM-4PM. Coffee, and during the busy season, breakfast; dinner is on blackboard menus and change to suit seasonal ingredients. Deli style sandwiches, cakes, pies, cookies and salads with all products made on site. Great views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman.
- 6 South Westland Salmon Farm (an hour from Fox Glacier/Haast), ☎ . 8AM-4PM daily. Fresh and smoked salmon in a variety of dishes like sashimi and pasta. Not really value-for-money, but it's the only stop to eat for the two-hour journey between Fox Glacier and Haast. Check out the salmon ponds at the side.
- 1 Fox Glacier Holiday Park, Kerr Road, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 154 366, fax: . 14-room lodge, campsites, powered campervan sites, and bunkhouse cabins are available. $13-99.
- 2 Ivory Towers Backpacker Lodge, Sullivan Road, ☎ . In the winter, rooms are freezing cold; they do not have adequate heaters. $10 - 90. Lowest prices offered to BBH members.
- 3 Fox Glacier Homestay, ☎ . 0.5 km from the village, this homestay offers three bedrooms and a continental breakfast. $70-120.
- 4 Roaring Billy Lodge, ☎ . 2 minutes from the town centre, this homestay offers two bedrooms with shared bathroom and a special cooked breakfast. Your host Billy is a seasoned bushman and offers educational walks in the evenings.
- 5 Ropatinis B & B, ☎ . 3 minutes drive from town's centre, this is a lovely homestay with inviting hosts. The gardens and views are beautiful. There is a choice of en suite units or rooms inside the main house (with and without en suite). Breakfast is provided, dinner by arrangement.
- 6 Distinction Fox Glacier Te Weheka Boutique Hotel, State Highway 6, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 313 414, fax: . 21 rooms with beautiful en suites and balconies. Guest lounge, internet, library, lift, undercover parking. Breakfasts included.
- 7 Fox Glacier Lodge, Sullivan Road, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 8 en suite rooms. Some rooms with kitchens, double spa baths & gas fire places. B&B Lodge rooms include continental selection breakfast. Also Fox Glacier Campervan Park: 24 powered campervan sites. Showers, toilets, kitchen & coin operated laundry. Fresh drinking water & dump station. Free BBQ in sheltered BBQ area & picnic tables for guest use. 1-min stroll to all cafes/shops, etc. $120-250.
- 8 High Peaks Hotel, 163 Cook Flat Road - Lake Matheson Road, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 273 767, fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 54 rooms with bathrooms. $120-190.
- 9 Scenic Circle Glacier Country Hotel, State Highway 6, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 696 963, fax: . 51 rooms.
- 10 Fox Glacier Inn, 39 Sullivan Road, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 16 en suite rooms, 12 basic share rooms.
- 11 Lake Matheson Motel, Corner Cook Flat Rd & Pekanga Drive, ☎ .
- 12 Lake Paringa Heritage Lodge (Located 68km south of town), ☎ . Motel, backpackers and van sites near Lake Paringa. $95-115.
- 13 Rainforest Motel, Cook Flat Road - Lake Matheson Road, ☎ .
- 14 Sunset Motel, Cook Flat Road, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 751 006, fax: . 25 motel units opened in November 2003. $95-195.
- 15 The Westhaven, State Highway 6, ☎ , toll-free: 0800 369 452, fax: . Queen and King motel units. $175-195.
- 16 Fox Glacier Campervan Park. See under "Inns and Lodges" above.
Some of the motels and hotels will offer free Wi-fi, though some will also require payment.
- Nurse's Clinic, ☎ . There is a nurse's clinic on the north edge of town open daily. Doctor available on Thursdays only.