Fox Glacier, New Zealand

[ 2 ] May 15, 2012 |

Just 150 km south of Hokitika, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier are two of the most accessible glaciers in the world and certainly one of the top tourist attractions in all of New Zealand.  The west coast of the South Island is one of the wettest areas on earth.  Warm humid air moving southeasterly over the Tasman Sea meets the western shores of New Zealand and is forced upward over the 10,000-foot tall mountain range that makes up the western coast.  As this air climbs it starts dropping weight (moisture) to make it over the mountains.   This frantic climb up the mountain creates one crazy weather pattern.  In an average year, the beaches on the western coast receive about 1 meter of rain while the top of the mountain receives upwards of 80 meters of rain, ice, and snow.  With so much accumulation at the top of the mountain, this ice and snow gets forced sharply down the mountain folds in the form of glaciers.  But these are no ordinary glaciers.  In fact, given the slope and level of accumulation these are some of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, traveling around 1.5 meters per day.  From top to bottom Fox Glacier is around 13 kilometers long and falls about 8,000 feet in altitude ending in the middle of a rain forest at around 900 feet above sea level.  The extreme conditions and scenery alone make this a uniquely unmistakable place on the planet.

Fox Glacier

The Terminal Wall of Fox Glacier

Hole in the Glacier

Choosing which glacier to climb was tough decision for us.  That was until we called to make a reservation to climb Franz Joseph at which time we were informed that they were all full for the day we wanted to climb.  Decision made, Fox Glacier it is.  Fox Glacier Guiding is the only game in town authorized by NZ to guide tourists up the glacier.  Arriving at their facilities in the town of Fox Glacier, just a few kilometers away from the terminal face, our guides for the day quickly greeted us, gave us a brief tutorial, and loaded us up with gear.  They gave us boots, thick wool socks, slickers (rubberized pants and jacket), and a pair of over-the-boot metal ice cleats.

Al Geared Up and Ready to Go

A group of about 30 of us that signed up for the half-day trek soon loaded up the nearby charter bus and began our journey toward the glacier.  Reaching the extent of how far the bus could take us, we unloaded, sentenced to make the rest of the journey on foot.  As trekked up the path toward the glacier, thanks to the continued rain that morning, we ended up having to cross two recently created streams that promptly filled our boots with icy water.

Getting Ready to Cross the River

Crossing the River

Almost There

While not ideal circumstances, we soon forgot about our soaked socks once the terminal face was in view.  A wall of ice five stories high was staring us in the face; breathtaking.

The Terminal Wall Up Close

We slapped on our cleats and dutifully marched onto a massive sheet of ice.  The staff at Fox Guiding had spent all morning (every morning) maintaining over a kilometer of steps shaped into the ice for tourists to use as they make their way up the glacier and onto to its upper surface.  Stepping onto the glacier for the first time was out of this world.

Stepping Stones

Trekking on the Ice

For the next two hours we traversed the lower end of the glacier peering into various holes in the ice and peaking out over ice ledges.  Our guide was a young 24-year-old Icelandic man whose passion for ice climbing brought him all the way to New Zealand.  He let us be as adventurous as we wanted to be and even let us try out his ice axe which he had just sharpened the night before (which I almost had first hand experience with as I nearly placed it squarely into the side of leg – I missed thankfully).  Eerie, peaceful, majestic; all these words describe what it feels like to be on a glacier.

Hanging Out on the Ice

Be Careful With that Thing, Its Sharp

Jumping for Joy

Don't Fall In

Our raining morning on trekking up and down Fox Glacier was truly unforgettable and was probably one of the more memorable experiences of our trip thus far.  I will always remember the feeling of digging my toes and heals into the ice with every step, the sound of rushing water under the ice beneath my feet, and the echoing sounds of falling rocks and ice to my left and right.  A definite two thumbs up.

Climbing Down

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Category: Blog, Destinations, Featured Posts, New Zealand, Pat's Blog

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  1. Cynthia says:


  2. Russ Porter says:

    That’s something I never new NZ had. What a diverse country.

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