In Aug 2019, we booked a heli-hike to the Fox Glacier in the South Island of New Zealand. Unfortunately on that very morning when we were supposed to go on the heli-hike, the weather conditions were not ideal and the heli hike was cancelled by the tour company, Fox Glacier Company. As they did it out of safety reasons, it was a bit of a bummer but we were fine with it. As an alternative, we decided to take a walk to see the Fox Glacier. Is the terminal face walk of Fox Glacier worth it? Read on.
Is the terminal face walk of Fox Glacier worth it?
About the Fox Glacier
According to Wikipedia, the Fox Glacier is a 13-kilometre-long temperate maritime glacier located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It was named in 1872 after a visit by then Prime Minister of New Zealand Sir William Fox. Accidents on the glacier include ice and rockfall, in instances where people stray beyond the safety barriers. A helicopter also crashed into the glacier in 2015.
We decided to do a walk to the terminal face of the glacier, having done one to see the Franz Josef Glacier the day before. We were on a guided tour back then and were confident of doing a trek by following the footpath. According to Google maps, the walk was a short 15 minute away from the nearest carpark. Unfortunately when we drove along the path that Google suggested, we faced a road block which prevented cars from passing through. We decided to park by the side of the designated path and walk in. Just in case you’re wondering, it takes about three hours to walk there and back (at a leisure pace). In terms of the ease of hiking, it was similar to our Glencoe hike in Scotland, though the terrain was different.
There’s path for you to U-turn and head back the other way. We did a U-turn and parked by the side of the main road, for a hike in.
After walking in, we were still unsure if the walk was still open. But we continued and were rewarded with sights of a flowing river and a temperate rainforest. As we walked along, it became apparent that the road was closed due to the possibility of a mud slide or avalanche. Several cracks had formed deep in the road. This could possibly be due to torrential rain which washed away the Waiho Bridge in Mar 2019. As we walked along, we saw several uprooted trees as well. We carried on walking, past the barricades.
The Moraine Walk
The Moraine Walk has got to be my favourite part of the walk to Fox Glacier. There were all sorts of plants and trees – most of which I had never come across as I’ve mostly trekked through tropical rainforests in South-east Asia. The Moraine Walk was not physically challenging and I enjoyed the scenery along the way.
Did you know that moraine’s are debris of rock and stone left behind when a glacier retreats? Check this site out for more information on Moraine Walk on the West Coast.
Arriving at the Glacier View Road Carpark
After the Moraine Walk and another walk of 20 minutes, we came to the original carpark where people used to stop before the avalanche in Mar 2019.
After a 15 minute walk in, we arrived at the Glacier View Road Carpark. The hike to the actual view point of the glacier is about 10 minutes.
Finally, we arrived at the view point of Fox Glacier after more than an hour’s walk. We passed by one other viewpoint, but the glacier was covered by overhanging branches and tree leaves. We arrived at a warning sign, alerting people not to stray off the trail.
I learnt from Wikipedia that a glacier is unique due to its ability to move under it’s own weight. It’s only found in land, which differs from the sheets of ice found on the sea or in lakes. Glaciers also mold the land surround them, leaving behind moraines (pictures of the walk you just saw) and cirques.
If you’re wondering why the glacier has a tinge of blue, Wikipedia explains that this occurs when snow falls on a glacier, is compressed, and becomes part of the glacier. Air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals enlarge, making the ice appear blue.
The Travelling Squid’s Take
We were glad to see Fox Glacier despite the rather long walk there and back. It took us about 3 hours in total, but I was glad that we trekked there. Compared to the Franz Josef glacier which we visited the day before, the glacier seem a lot more blue. I was also glad that the weather held up, and there was hardly anyone around us. Is the terminal face walk of Fox Glacier worth it? Well, I would say so if you have some time to spare. That said if you can, I think the heli-hike would give you a more immersive experience of the glacier.
Have you been on a heli-hike to the glaciers? Do share your experience!