The Fox Glacier Village
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 travelers 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 kilometers west from the Fox Glacier village is the beautiful Lake Matheson. The Lake was formed about 14,000 years ago when a large depression was 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 color 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 kilometers and takes around 1½ hours to 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 traveling 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 1860s. 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 travelers. 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.
Key Safety Tips
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.
- Be Prepared. Alpine weather conditions are always changing, tracks and roads may be closed at short notice, carry warm wet weather gear, and wear strong sturdy footwear. Be prepared to turn back if conditions become unfavorable or you find yourself out of your depth.
- Follow The Safety Rules. Read all safety signs and obey them, in particular stay behind the barriers provided, they are there to help keep you safe. In the past people have died or been seriously injured after ignoring signs and going over the barriers, your safety is your responsibility at all times.
- Be Aware Of Flooding. Sudden downpours can create flooding within minutes. Stay on the marked tracks and do not attempt to cross swollen streams. Heavy rain can destabilize steep valley walls causing rockfalls and slips, do not stop in marked rock-fall areas. The terminal face of the glacier is continuously eroding with rocks and ice breaking off at any moment, these occurrences are extremely dangerous and can even cause surges in the rivers and create flood-like situations.
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 traveling 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.