Fox Glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park along New Zealand’s West Coast of the South Island is one of the natural wonders of the country you can visit. To explore the glacier from up close there are a few options. In this complete guide you’ll find not only a description of what to expect during the short and free Fox Glacier walk to get a glimpse of the glacier, but you will also find other options to explore the glacier from up close. You can either go heli hiking for example to experience walking on Fox Glacier or book a helicopter tour to see Fox Glacier from an aerial view including a snow landing.
About Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier is a 13-kilometer-long glacier located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the third largest glacier in New Zealand and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fox Glacier starts high in the Southern Alps and descends through steep and narrow valleys to just 250 meters above sea level, where it ends in a temperate rainforest. While Fox glacier has been retreating since the early 20th century, it is still one of the most stunning natural attractions in New Zealand.
Fox glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, attracting thousands of visitors each year who come to hike, climb, or take a scenic helicopter tour over the glacier. Fun fact is that Fox glacier has a unique blue hue due to the dense ice that absorbs all colors of the spectrum except blue, giving it a striking appearance.
There are a few options to see the glacier. You can do the self guided Fox Glacier walk where you can get a glimpse of Fox Glacier from far away. But you can also book a guided nature tour that takes you through For Glacier valley while you learn more about the glaciology, geology, local plants, and animals from your local guide.
Some of the best and most spectacular way to explore Fox Glacier is by helicopter when booking some of the Glacier helicopter tours from Franz Josef.
Walking on Fox Glacier vs Fox Glacier walk
There is a big difference in experience of the Fox Glacier walk and walking on Fox Glacier. The free activity of Fox Glacier walk takes you through ancient Podocarp Rainforest and leads you to a viewpoint where you can get a glimpse of Fox Glacier in the far distance. The old glacial river bed is in front of the glacier and stretches out over a huge area. Only with a zoom lens or binoculars you will be able to see the Fox Glacier properly. In the past it was possible to get closer to Fox Glacier, but unfortunately there is no longer access from the valley floor. This is because of the dramatic retreat that occurred in previous years resulting in ice loss and instability around the glacier terminus.
So, if you want to have a more exciting experience and get up close to Fox Glacier, it will involve helicopter access. With guided heli hiking tours you will be able to go walking on Fox Glacier and experience the ancient ice from up close. If you only want to see the Glacier from an aerial view, you can also just book the helicopter tour that includes a short landing on the Glacier without the hike.
How to get to Fox Glacier walk
To get to the parking lot of the Fox Glacier South Side Walk you have to follow the Fox Glacier road all the way to the end where you will see the car park. From here the Fox Glacier walk is clearly signed and easy to follow on a wide gravel path along the Fox river.
Best time for the Fox Glacier walk
The best weather circumstances to spot Fox Glacier are obviously clear skies. If it’s too cloudy you won’t be able to see the majority of Fox Glacier which might be a disappointment. Its tongue will be visible, but the majesty of the glacier is better to take in with a clear sky.
Fox Glacier walk key facts
Before we dive into the details about the Fox Glacier walk, let’s first have a look at the key facts of the trail so you’re well prepared!
Fox Glacier walk distance and duration: The out and back trail is 6.4 km return via the same track and takes about 2 hours to complete.
Fox Glacier walk difficulty and incline: With only 178 meters of elevation gain the Fox Glacier walk is an easy and very family friendly walk. The wide gravel path is well maintained and there aren’t any challenging parts along the trail.
What to expect during the Fox Glacier walk
The Fox Glacier South Side Walk follows the south bank of the Fox River through ancient podocarp rainforest to two separate lookout viewpoints on the glacier. The trail is a gentle walk uphill enclosed by stunning native bush on both sides.
From the car park to the first lookout in the forest it’s 2.6km walking. Here you can see the Fox Glacier in the distance with stunning forest as foreground.
The trail then continues further through the forest and winds it’s way down to the river viewpoint. At this point the track ends abruptly above the old glacial river bed down below. You can’t go past the fence because access to the Fox glacier valley is prohibited because of extreme flood hazard.
From the river viewpoint the track loops back on the main trail and takes you back to the car park along the same gravel path.
Walking on Fox Glacier
Walking on Fox Glacier is a unique and unforgettable experience. The glacier is a natural wonder, and the opportunity to explore its icy terrain is both exciting and awe-inspiring. It’s a bucket list experience in New Zealand and highly recommended to book a heli hike tour or snow landing on Fox Glacier.
Guided tours are the most common way to explore Fox Glacier. The tour usually involves being equipped with crampons, which are metal spikes that attach to your boots to provide traction on the ice, as well as other safety gear like helmets and harnesses. The guides are experienced and knowledgeable about the glacier and its features, and will take you on a carefully planned route that avoids any hazardous areas.
Walking on the glacier is physically demanding, and if you plan to do the glacier hike, then be prepared for quite a challenging hike. The terrain can be uneven, and there are some steep sections to climb. However, the reward for the effort is stunning views of the glacier’s deep blue ice, crevasses, and ice formations. The sound of the ice cracking and moving beneath your feet is an unforgettable experience.
The glacier is constantly changing and the experience of walking on it can vary depending on the time of year and the weather conditions. You should be prepared for cold temperatures, even in summer, and dress in warm layers and waterproof clothing.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Where to stay near Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier township is a small and quiet village close to Franz Josef which is a 30 minute drive away. You can either choose to stay in Fox Glacier, which has limited accommodations and facilities, or base yourself in Franz Josef which has many more options for supermarkets, restaurants and cafes. Therefore I recommend to stay in Franz Josef instead of Fox Glacier town. You can then easily visit Franz Josef Glacier, the Glacier Hot Pools and many more attractions near Franz Josef. Here are the best places to stay in Franz Josef.
We have stayed here ourselves and absolutely loved the self contained chalets. It felt like a ‘home away from home’ with everything you need. A fully equipped kitchen to cook your own meals, comfortable bed, table with chairs for dining, comfortable couch, private parking and a shared laundry. Highly recommended!
Set amongst lush native bush in Franz Josef town is the Rainforest Retreat located. With a range of different accommodations from luxury tree huts to backpackers rooms the Rainforest Retreat has something for every budget. There are 5 bedroom holiday homes and one bedroom cottages. There is also the option to choose for a private hot tub with some tree houses or rooms with bunkbeds. With an on site spa, sauna and restaurant, there is nothing you will miss in this beautiful accommodation.
Centrally located in Franz Josef Village, the Scenic Hotel offers spacious and modern furnished rooms and suites with en suite bathroom. Some rooms have a balcony. You can enjoy breakfast and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant which serves modern New Zealand cuisine and quality wines.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier including a snow landing. Fly above the ice falls, snowfields, and crevasses before you land in a glacial snowfield. A must do in Franz Josef and absolute once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Fox Glacier walk. Make sure to put this awesome spot on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!