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Fox Glacier is one of Westland Tai Poutini National Park’s longest glacial features. Part of a UNESCO World Heritage area on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, this stunning ice formation is not too far away from its namesake township, and getting to see it only takes a bit of hiking acumen.
The route you take will depend entirely on how close you want to get to this majestic glacier. For those who are happy to just immerse themselves in their forested surrounds there’s a short, easy one-hour loop trail that offers spectacular views of Fox Glacier – getting its visitors within a good 500-metre distance of the glacier’s terminal face. This walk is free and despite having some slippery rocky inclines is accessible enough that anyone with a good level of fitness (children included) can do it.
If you’re one of those people for whom hiking the glacier is a bucket list must-do, then a guided tour will be the best option. Operators will provide you with all the required hiking equipment and will transport you to the top of the glacier by helicopter before guiding you for an epic ice expedition.
Getting onto the icy surfaces doesn’t require any specialist expertise with glacial walks or mountaineering, but prior experience in hiking certainly won’t go amiss. The main thing to note is that trekking on ice requires extra care and slower walking pace; you’ll also need to equip yourself with a good pair of leather boots, crampons and a balancing pole so that you don’t lose your footing along the way.
While all the essentials will be provided by your tour guides, it’s best to be prepared for a full day in the chilly outdoors. Wear and bring plenty of warm waterproof layers (jeans are not recommended for a trek like this); pack some food, water and snacks to keep your energy levels at bay; and don’t forget to take essential accessories such as a pair sunglasses, gloves, warm hat and a camera with you.
Your standard heli-hike might take around 3-4 hours to complete. It will begin at approximately 800 metres (2,625 feet) above sea level, flying past the stunning Victoria Falls before landing into Fox Glacier. Departure times may vary between seasons but you can typically expect a couple of helicopter departures in the morning and additional afternoon flights during the peak summer season.
One thing to remember is that the glacier is always changing – because of this, weather and ice conditions will dictate how long each individual trek will last. You can expect the same to happen if you were hiking Fox Glacier’s neighbour, Franz Josef.
If you want to take things up a notch, there are longer glacial hiking experiences on offer, like full-day hikes with an experienced guide (great for those wanting to get firsthand knowledge about the area and its rich history); a 9-hour heli ice climbing adventure (ideal for those wanting to get their mountaineering fix); and a multi-day heli-trek that enables visitors to get nice and close to Fox Glacier’s neighbouring counterparts. Your choices will depend entirely on your fitness level, disposition and curiosity to see the other glaciers that make this part of the country so special.