Fox Glacier Valley Walk
The Fox Glacier is the largest and longest of the spectacular West Coast glaciers. It is remarkable in that it ends in temperate rainforest, 250 metres above sea level and a mere twelve kilometres from the sea. There are more 3,000m (10,000ft) peaks at the head of the Fox Glacier than in any other valley in New Zealand. Nowhere in the world’s temperate zones are glaciers so accessible. Depending on where the safety barriers are this walk will take you about one hour return.
From the Fox Glacier Village head south on State Highway Six and look for the signs saying Fox Glacier just before the Cook River Bridge. While driving up the access road to the car park, you will see regenerating forest and cross a small ford before the Valley floor opens before you.
From the car park walk past the toilets. The trail that leads you over moraine debris. Glacial moraines are piles of rock that have been scoured from the mountains, as the glacier bulldozed down the valley. These piles of rock and dead ice were left after the last glacial retreat in the 1960’s.
Within fifty metres, you will see the first Glacier valley barrier. From here, you get a stunning view of the Terminal Face and the snout of the glacier with the Fox River surging from beneath the wall of ice. On some days, the Fox Glacier valley may be closed due to the risk of flooding, rock fall and river surges. This is a powerful and unpredictable environment that can quickly change. With only moderate rain, the river can quickly rise by a several metres.
The Department of Conservation monitors conditions here and places the appropriate signage for your safety. Protect yourself by staying behind barriers and observing the signs if the barriers are in place. Do not try under any circumstances, to follow glacier guided groups. They are highly trained in this environment; they carefully manage the safety of their clients and provide them with the right equipment. For more information on guided trips talk to the Fox Glacier Guides. Their building is on the main road in the centre of the Fox Glacier Village.
The Fox Glacier is longer than the Franz Josef Glacier, and descends slowly around a bend in a narrower valley. It's terminal face is about 250 metres above sea level. The neve or snow catchment area is bounded by Douglas Peak, and Mounts Haast, Tasman, Torres and others. It also gives access to the La Perouse Glacier which leads to the brooding Mt La Perouse.
The Maori name for the glacier is Te Moeka o Tuawe or the bed of Tuawe. He was a Maori warrior who fell to his death while climbing with his lover Hine Hukatere. The valley was his final resting place, and her tears of sorrow froze and became a glacier in everlasting memory of her love Tuawe.
The Fox Glacier received its first European visitation in 1857 when Leonard Harper crossed Harpers Pass and explored the West Coast. Leonard named the glacier Albert, after Prince Albert the husband of Queen Victoria. However, being only nineteen at the time and not pursuing the proper paperwork the naming rights went to Sir Julius Von Haast. He formerly registered the name Fox Glacier in 1865. It was named in honour of the New Zealand’s premier, Sir William Fox. For More information on the Life of Sir William see the notes under Track History for the Mt Fox route.
Between 1894 and 1895 the famous explorer Charlie Douglas, the namesake of Douglas Peak and William Wilson mapped and surveyed the glacier. Charlie Douglas trained as an accountant in Scotland before he immigrated to New Zealand and spent much of his life adventuring in the Glacier Country and South Westland. His map making and report writing skills were exceptional, and his simple sketches of the landscape were drawn to an exact scale.
Charlie, often only in the company of his dog, lived under a simple canvas batwing tent,. He wrote detailed letters of his adventures. The letters and his diaries show his philosophical and sometimes “whimsical” sense of humour. He was extremely interested in the West Coast’s flora and fauna and wrote amusing descriptions of kea, kaka and weka and the wild West Coast forests. His acerbic wit also provided some amusing insights into the locals at Okarito and Haast.
In later life arthritis curtailed his wilderness adventures. Charlie spent the rest of his years in Hokitika working on maps for the Hokitka surveying office, and in 1916 when he died of a stroke. Charlie’s letters and reports been complied into an extremely readable book “Mr Explorer Douglas” by James Pascoe and the latest edition includes updates edited by Graham Langton in 2000 which can be purchased from the Take Note Book Shop in the Franz Josef Glacier Village.
Bookings & Enquiries
Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre
Phone: +64 3 752 0796
Address: Main Road
Franz Josef 7856