The cliché in the early guide books that this track is “not for the faint hearted” is no exaggeration. If you are fit and experienced it will take you about 3 ½ hours to reach the 1345 metre peak.
Here you will be rewarded with the breath-taking views of the Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe. That is if you have any breath left after gasping your way up the rugged route!
You will need sturdy footwear, warm clothes and your own food and water. Be aware that the clouds can roll in at any time and visibility on the mountain tops can quickly decrease to a few centimetres beyond your nose. Before setting off have a look at the Department of Conservation web site and make sure that you leave detailed intentions with someone responsible.
The trailhead for the Mt Fox track is located, 3 kilometres south of the Fox Glacier Village on State Highway 6 at the Thirsty Culvert. Look for the Welcome to Fox Glacier sign and the small car park.
The track is rough with limited markers; at first it follows the southern bank of Thirsty Creek through the shrubby entanglement of the West Coast podocarp hardwood forest. You can get a sense of what it must have been like to be an explorer battling through the deranged entanglement. As you climb in and out of some small gullies before continuing your relentless climb up the mountainous spur.
Just before the tree line you will reach the first trig station at 1021 meters. The track continues on through alpine herb fields of edelweiss, buttercup, hebe, grasses and other plants to the peak of Mt Fox. Follow the ridge which curls up to your right, past small mountain tarns and some spectacular aerial views of the Fox Glacier Village.
After the last thigh burning climb the views are breathtaking. The Southern Alps Ka Tiritiri o te Moana is laid out before you. Beyond the coastal forest and farmland that surrounds the Fox Glacier Village the Tasman Sea stretches out to the horizon. On a clear day range after range of bush clad terraces directs your line of sight to the Jackson Bay headland.
The mountain is named after Sir William Fox, one of New Zealand’s leading coloniser explorers. He trained as a lawyer in England before immigrating to New Zealand in 1842 with his wife Sarah. In 1843, he became the New Zealand Company agent in Nelson and was charged with finding and distributing land to the European immigrants.
In the late 19th Century while acting for the New Zealand Company he went on many extraordinary adventures in search of somewhat mythical “flat land” including expeditions down the Wairau River, Buller Gorge, around Banks Peninsula and Otago.
Fox’s political life officially began in 1855 when he was elected to represent Wanganui in the House of Representatives. His potted career in politics lasted for over 25 turbulent years, including four terms as Premier (the equivalent of today’s Prime Minister).
In 1866 during his first visit to the Glacier Country, Sir William made a gold strike at the mouth of the Fox River. In 1872 he again journeyed down the West Coast and painted the glacier that was named in his honour.
He was a gifted painter and created many stunning portraits and watercolours of the “new colony”. Art historian Jill Trevelyan noted in her book 'Picturing Paradise: the colonial watercolours of William Fox' that "Fox's art represents the private vision of a complex 19th-century man, whose image of an ideal New Zealand sustained him throughout a long and turbulent career.”
On retirement, Sir William began to passionately advocate for the temperance cause. Aged eighty he even climbed Mt Taranaki to prove the benefits of an alcohol free lifestyle. He died in Auckland in 1893 and will be remembered for his political endeavours, painting, exploration and social reform especially in regards to the rights of the Maori people.