Did you know that one of the world’s most accessible glaciers can be found in New Zealand?
Fox Glacier, or Te Moeka o Tuawe as it is called in Maori, lies on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
It’s not only accessible, but it is also one of only a handful of glaciers worldwide that reach all the way into a lush, temperate rainforest!
Located on the Western flanks of the Southern Alps, below the summit of Mount Tasman and in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest peak Mount Cook / Aoraki, Fox Glacier is a very popular yet dangerous tourist attraction.
Guided walks lead you onto the glacier and into the ice. It’s amazing to start off in lush rainforest vegetation and slowly climb higher onto the terminal face and into the ice. You’ll need sturdy footwear and the guides will supply spikes so you keep your grip on the glacier.
In the lower reaches, steps have been hewn into the ice to make the access easier. Weather depending, you’ll be amazed by how warm it can be on the glacier even though you are standing on ice. Even a trip into the larger and secure gaps (when allowed) is not as chilly as expected.
And the higher you go, the clearer the ice will be. It’s fascinating to walk into a small gap and find yourself surrounded by blue ice thousands, if not millions of years old!
When I visited in 2003, the glacier was still advancing at about 1 metre per week and had reached a length of over 13km. It is now receding again. During the last Ice Age it reached all the way to the coast and Lake Matheson was formed and filled when the glacier retreated.
Bear in mind that this glacier is constantly in motion. You may not see it, but it does move and when ice falls it can have disasterous and deadly consequences for hikers who go on unattended or do not heed the warning signs and barriers.
But for those who really want to experience the glacier with more than a hike, there are scenic helicopter and skydiving flights available from the town of Fox Glacier.
And if one glacier is not enough, there is Franz Josef Glacier (Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere) about 20km to the north, within the same National Park.
Standing on a glacier in the middle of a rainforest is a surreal experience, but if you’re fit enough for the hike, one that is definitely worth it!