The skies had turned a dismal grey, and the sight of raindrops splattering on the windows was our only view as the bus navigated the steep winding road. We were the only ones remaining on the bus from Greymouth to Fox Glacier Village, the rest had disembarked at Franz Josef Glacier, decidedly the more popular of the two glaciers in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. “It’s only a few more minutes, guys. I know you’re tired and can’t wait to get there. Neither can I, actually”, our driver said sympathetically. It had been a long bus ride and the gloomy skies didn’t help with lifting our spirits.
An hour later, sitting in the comfortable warmth of the heater, we excitedly made plans for our first day, the highlight of which was undoubtedly going to be the Glacier Walk. Neither of us had experienced anything like it before and the idea of a guided walk on Fox Glacier sounded just like the kind of adventure we wanted to experience in Glacier Country. Then we headed into the center of the village for a relaxed dinner at the very ‘Western’ Cook Saddle Café and Saloon.
Fox Glacier Village was exactly as we had expected, a tiny village with a few lodges, B&Bs and a couple of restaurants. We hadn’t come here looking for nightlife or expecting the usual comforts of tourist centers. This was precisely why we’d chosen to come to Fox Glacier instead of Franz Josef, because we didn’t want to compete with large crowds when it came to booking activities or hiking in the area. It had been a great decision; we saw very few fellow tourists and even had an entire trail almost all to ourselves! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tourist and I don’t mind other tourists but sometimes when a place is overcrowded, it doesn’t get the admiration it deserves, simply because it’s hard to enjoy it as much.
If you’re planning a trip to Glacier Country and wondering which of the two glaciers you’d like to see more, or where to base yourself, here’s a list of things you can do in Fox Glacier Village. Personally, not everything went as I planned but I still loved this part of our trip and would highly recommend it.
Fox Glacier Guided Walk
The next morning, we woke up to find that our glacier walk had been cancelled due to strong winds. Unfortunately, this continued to happen over the next two days and so ultimately we could not experience what we had most been looking forward to. Well, one of the important lessons travel teaches you is that not everything will go as planned and you must take it in your stride.
The Fox Glacier Guided Walk is undoubtedly the highlight of any trip to the glacier and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had booked the Fox Trot Half Day Guided Glacier Walk because it’s suitable for beginners who don’t have prior experience with crampons or trekking on ice. There are other options such as the Flying Fox Heli Hike, which flies you into a remote part of the glacier by helicopter, and the Fox Ice Climbing Adventure, suitable for those with high fitness levels. More information is available at the Glacier Country NZ website. The tours available at any time are highly dependent on weather conditions so plan for an extra day or two in Fox Village, in case a guided hike, heli hike or ice climb is something you absolutely must do before you leave.
Fox Glacier Valley Hike
This was our next best option to get as close to the glacier as possible. While there is a guided option available, the Fox Glacier Valley Hike is something you can definitely do on your own and suitable for basic fitness levels and children. You can drive all the way from the village to the car park, about 3.5kms away, after which you begin the hike. The easy hike to reach the terminal face takes about 45 minutes and there’s just one trail that’s well marked. Hazardous areas are roped off; rock fall, icefall and unexpected surges in glacial streams are common. The trail on the floor of the river valley is rocky and damp at certain points from the streams. At the end of the hike, the snout of the glacier with the Fox River flowing beneath is a rewarding sight.
For me, this was the highlight of our time in Fox Glacier Village. Like we did, begin your day with a lovely breakfast and a view that’s hard to beat at the Lake Matheson Café.
Then, hike the Lake circuit, a 2.6 km easy hike around Lake Matheson, through native rainforest, that takes about an hour and a half. The waters of the lake perfectly reflect the country’s highest peaks, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman creating a stunningly beautiful mirror image. To get your postcard shot, try to get there as early in the morning as possible when the water of the lake is still calm and without any ripples. The lake is home to long finned eels and many water birds. Waterproof hiking shoes are recommended, as the trail is damp in parts.
Dining & Accommodation
The accommodation in Fox Village is not a whole lot to choose from; there are lodges and some really nice B&Bs, but nothing too fancy. When we booked, we found the accommodation here to be cheaper than Franz Josef Glacier. Our B&B hosts were nice enough to lend us their car for free to drive to the village center when it was too cold to walk there.
There are about 7-8 restaurants in the village and most of them are concentrated in the center, so don’t expect a wide range of dining options as you would in a city or big town.
Check out my itinerary for two weeks in New Zealand.
Have you visited Fox or Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand? How was the experience? If you’ve never visited, does this sound like a place you’d like to explore?
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