The Fox Glacier is located within Westland National Park on the West Coast of the South Island, approximately 2.5 hrs south of Greymouth by car. Fed by four alpine glaciers, this river of ice carves a 13 km path through the temperate forest landscape from the Southern Alps to its terminating point 250 metres above sea level, just 12 km from the Tasman Sea. The one kilometre high vertical rock walls of the Fox Glacier valley were carved out by the glacier approximately 18000 years ago when it reached all the way to the sea.
Known as Te Moeka o Tuawe by the local Maori, meaning ‘The Bed of Tuawe’. Legend has it Tuawe was a Maori warrior who met an untimely death and was laid to rest in the Valley, with the tears from his lover Hine Hukatere becoming the glacier in everlasting memory of Tuawe.
Easy access to the terminal face of the glacier makes this a very popular stop for tourists travelling along the West Coast. There are many ways to experience the beautiful Fox Glacier, either in your own time or on a guided tour. The Fox Glacier valley has a number of scenic walks which provide amazing views of the glacier from different angles and designated viewing areas, or view the glacier up close by taking a guided ice-hiking tour.
If you would prefer a more relaxing option, viewing the glacier from the air by helicopter, with its ability to hover low and even land near the glacier is certainly the best way to experience the magnificence of this unique glacier experience.
The terminal face of the glacier is only 5 km from the Fox Glacier village, a relaxed township surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery including breath-taking views of New Zealand’s highest peaks Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. The village provides travellers with various choices for guided glacial tours and other outdoor adventure activities, an Information Centre, Post Shop, Petrol Station, General Store, a good range of accommodation options and a sprinkling of superb café choices.
Fox Glacier village is 3.5 hours drive from Wanaka, just under 2 hours from Hokitika and 25 minutes from Franz Josef village.
Six kilometres west from the Fox Glacier village, is the beautiful Lake Matheson. The Lake was formed about 14,000 years ago when a large depression left behind after the Glacier retreated filled with water. On a clear day it’s easy to see why this is New Zealand’s most photographed lake, its mirror-like reflections of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman are picture perfect. The dramatic reflections are thanks to the deep dark brown colour of the lake waters, a result of the run-off from the pristine forest surroundings.
One of the most popular short walks in Westland National Park, the full Lake Matheson circuit is 2.6 kilometres and takes around 1½ hours return at a slow pace. The far end of the circuit, either early morning or late afternoon is the best place to visit if you are looking for the perfect photograph. If you are short on time, take a quick stroll along the wheelchair friendly path to the jetty for some amazing views and easy photograph opportunities.
Getting there is easy in your hire car, turn onto the well signposted Cook Flat Road in the middle of Fox Glacier village, travel 5 km along then turn right onto the side road to Lake Matheson.
Further down Cook Flat Road (21km from the village) is the turn off for Gillespies Beach, where after travelling a somewhat challenging partially unsealed road you will find your trip was well worth it as you emerge onto the rugged, windswept black sandy beach. A little further along the coast down the track towards Galway Beach, is the opportunity to discover some of the remains of gold mining activity from the 1860’s. Roughly 1500 seals populate the cliffs at Galway Beach during the winter months with occasional sightings in summer.
There are several walks to choose from in this area, the Department of Conservation (DOC) website is a good place to start when planning your day. Also located along Gillespies Beach is a DOC campsite, providing free non powered tent sites for intrepid travellers. Quick tip; the sandflies here can be quite bad year round, be sure to include some bug repellent in your bag! Please note this campsite is not suitable for caravans or campervans.
Heading out into the great outdoors and getting up close to the glaciers is an exciting experience, but it can also be dangerous. Take care, keep safe and make sure your visit is one to remember for all the right reasons.
For more information on safety recommendations, weather and alerts when entering New Zealand’s remote National Parks check out the Department of Conservation ‘Know Before You Go’ website.
Stopping by the Fox Glacier on your way through in your rental car is easy, just look for the well signposted turn off while travelling State Highway 6. Whether you plan to stay for the day or the week you are sure to find memorable ways to spend your time in the Fox Glacier region.
Need transportation to make the most of the region? View our full range of affordable Greymouth rental cars and the best of the West Coast and Glacier country are yours to discover at your leisure.
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