The Rob Roy Glacier will always be the first glacier to enter my life, but Fox Glacier will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first one that I have ever walked on.
Fox Glacier is the longest of the glaciers in the Westland National Park, descending from the Southern Alps at an elevation of 3000 m and stretching approximately 13 kms into the valley. It is however, currently retreating fairly quickly after having advanced a significant distance in the early 2000s. Its névé (the snow catchment at the top of the glacier) is said to be larger than the size of Christchurch, which is one of New Zealand’s largest cities. Fox Glacier, like its brother Franz Josef Glacier 23 kms away, is particularly intriguing because it is one of the few glaciers in the world to terminate in a temperate rainforest.
We did the four-hour “Fox Trot” walking tour with Fox Glacier Guiding. The first part of this tour was spent walking the steep and very rocky path from the carpark to the terminal face of the glacier. The beautiful sunny weather that we were lucky enough to have meant that this part of the tour was very hot and very tiring. As we climbed up the valley alongside the glacial river, our guide pointed out how far the glacier had retreated over the years, and described many of its unique features. From the terminal face lookout, we crossed the barriers with our guide, put our crampons on, and headed towards the ice. We were taught to be aggressive with our steps on the ice to allow the crampons to do their work, and to always stick together as a group and follow the path cut out by the guide with his ice pick. Our guide explained how the glacier was formed, why glacial ice has a beautiful blue tinge, and showed us several of its interesting formations, including icefalls and several moulins (glacial mills). The ice time was seriously worth the effort of that steep walk up the valley and it was mind boggling to think of how much ice we were standing on top of and how deep those crevasses go!
For those planning to visit, we recommend booking accommodation in Franz Josef instead of in the Fox Glacier township, as it is larger and better catered for in terms of facilities and other backpackers to socialise with!