Glacier Hikes, Heli Hikes and Helicopter Tours in the Southern Alps
Located in New Zealand’s Westland National Park, Fox Glacier dramatically drops from the summits of the Southern Alps to the temperate rainforest on the west coast.
Descending a spectacular 2,600 metres from the nevé, Fox Glacier travels a magnificent 13km into the rainforest surrounding the Fox Glacier township, only 250 metres above sea level.
Unlike most of the world’s glaciers, Fox has been advancing since 1985 and, as of 2006, was moving at a rate of one metre per week. The glacier gained its name in 1872 following a visit of New Zealand’s president, Sir William Fox.
Fox Glacier Township
Located 6km from the bottom of the glacier is the township of Fox Glacier, the closest town to the glacier. With a population of approximately 500, the town is dedicated to tourism with virtually all of its revenue coming from glacier tours, hotels, bars and restaurants.
Tourism at Fox Glacier
As one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, tourists can walk right up to the terminal face free of charge. However, due to the rate of the glacier’s advancement, dangerous overhangs of ice are a risk to the public and safety cordons are in place around the terminal face itself.
For the more affluent visitor, there are a variety of options available from guided glacier hikes and ice climbing to helicopter sightseeing trips.
Fox Glacier Guiding
Without doubt, the best way to get close to the glacier and see it at its most beautiful is to take one of the many guided glacier hikes. Fox Glacier Guiding is the main tour operator offering hikes on to Fox Glacier. The company is based in the town itself and has been in existence since 1928.
To ensure visitors safety, all Fox Glacier Guides have a Glacier Guides Certification recognised by the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association.
Hikes suitable for any age and ability are available. The easiest (and cheapest) tour offered by Fox Glacier Guiding is a rather tame walk to the terminal face, this is accessible for most people, regardless of fitness levels.
Both half and full day hikes are available for visitors wishing to walk on the ice itself, both begin with a trek through the rainforest to the glacier where visitors will be provided with crampons and alpenstock before venturing out onto the glacial ice for anything from 1 to 5 hours.
For visitors who wish to see the glacier at its best, they need to venture higher up the mountain to witness the spectacle of natural ice caves, sculptures and waterfalls. The easiest way to see the most spectacular part of the glacier is to take part in a heli hike.
Fox Glacier Guiding offer half day, full day and even overnight heli hikes. Visitors are flown by helicopter from the township’s heliport to a location on the upper half of the glacier where they land on the ice and adorn crampons before venturing out to see the magnificent sights on offer. At the end of the hike the helicopters return to fly visitors back to the township.
Scenic Helicopter Trips
The less energetic tourists can still appreciate the beauty of Fox Glacier by taking one of the many helicopter trips on offer. Glacier Helicopters are one of many companies offering scenic flights. These range from a tour of Fox Glacier, with optional glacier landings, to soaring over Fox Glacier and close to the summit of Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.
A New Zealand ‘Must Do’
With a backdrop as spectacular as the Southern Alps, Fox Glacier is not just one of the world’s most accessible glaciers, it’s one of the most magnificent. The sight of the gigantic ice flow soaring down the mountainside towards the coast will leave no visitor in any doubt as to why this is one of the most popular sights in New Zealand.