Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Fox GlacierHiking . New Zealand . Outdoor Recreation . Travel . Worldwide Travel
Recommendations for Your South Island New Zealand Itinerary: Tour Fox Glacier
Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Fox Glacier. The mountain villages of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef provide access to the two most accessible glaciers on the West Coast. You can easily spend a full day exploring the glacier nature walks and the villages that thrive on the summertime tourist economy. Dozens of adventure tourism companies provide helicopter tours of the glaciers and other packages to explore the glaciers and surrounding mountain region. At Fox Glacier, the hike to view the receding glacier has more than doubled since we first started visiting in 2003, due to the stunning retreat of the glacier. This time, we took a full morning to hike up to the viewing platform; as you’ll see below, today the glacier is barely visible in the distance, compared to where it sat just ten years ago on the valley floor.
Planning a trip soon? Use our links to get discounted tickets, hotels, and more! Our site is partly supported by affiliate partnerships; your purchases through our affiliate links help support our site and the development of even more great content!
Best South Island New Zealand Day Hikes: Fox Glacier and the Glacial Valley
Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Fox Glacier. Take at least a half day if you want to explore the glacial valleys on foot. Well-maintained trails and informative signs provide a self-guided tour of the glaciers. The paths are steep in parts, but easy to navigate for inexperienced hikers. Pay attention to the roped-off edges of the trail as it ascends from the valley floor; a large sign at the end of the trail highlights several unfortunate tragedies when tourists hiked past the warning signs and fell to their deaths. As long as you stick to the path and the viewing area at the top, you’ll be just fine. (We managed to keep our inquisitive 9-year-old and squirrelly 3-year-old away from any danger!)
We woke up early, probably because of our close, cramped tent quarters and Renn’s constant rolling around in her sleeping bag. The good thing about waking up early with kids is that we get a jump-start on the day; after a light breakfast in the Top 10 Holiday Park’s shared dining room, we drove a few miles to the Fox Glacier turnoff and the road to the carpark that winds around past signs that show where the glacier stood in at various times in the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s, the intervals shortening the closer you get to the glacier. We arrived at the start of the trail early enough that there were only a few other adventure-seekers out, so we had the trail to ourselves until our return hike.
Fox Glacier and Glacial Melt
Most striking to us was the extent of the glacial melt since we were last here in 2009. When we visited with friends ten years ago, the glacier extended down to the valley floor, massive protrusions of blue ice raised upward with car-sized chunks of ice spilling out into the runoff and scattered around the valley floor. Now, the hiking path continues twice as far, ending at an elevated viewing area, and the glacier is barely visible in the distance, peeking around the valley from the top of the ridge. Today, the gray stone devoid of much foliage is all that’s still visible where the glacier used to be. This same spot was inaccessible ten years ago because of the receding glacier.
The broad glacial valley shows all the signs of glacial activity; slate and shale litter the valley floor where the glacier has advanced and receded, grinding the rock that isn’t carried away by the runoff stream. Vegetation grows above the line where the glacier recently sat, covering the jagged mountainsides between bare crags and cascading waterfalls.
Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. By the time we turned back, campervans, cars, and busloads of tourists had nearly filled the carpark, and dozens of visitors had begun the walk toward the glacier. For a more serene experience, try to get to the start of the hiking path no later than 9am, and you’ll enjoy a quiet walk along the monumental valley. Get there any later, and you’ll be sharing the views with a hundred of your new-found friends.
Tour New Zealand – South Island Itinerary: Driving from Fox Glacier to Franz Josef
Having depleted our stock of snacks and water, we headed back into the village of Fox Glacier to re-supply before driving the 30 minutes to Franz Josef for lunch. Fox Glacier sits below towering Aoraki/Mt. Cook and the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Franz Josef has great restaurants with views of Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the snow-capped mountains beyond the towns below. Franz Josef has a Kiwi encounter and plenty of great restaurants to choose from. It is located almost exactly between the glacier and the sea. Both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef make great starting points for adventures in the area, but we’ve found the accommodations in Fox Glacier are generally more affordable and better for backpacking and camping.