Marvel at Ice Glaciers on New Zealand’s South Island

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New Zealand is home to some of the last untouched, spectacular natural scenery in the world. One of the best examples of this pristine beauty can be seen on the west coast of the South Island, with the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers pouring out of the Southern Alps. As some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, guided glacier hikes are the best way to get up close and personal with these massive formations.

While the two glaciers are very similar (and only about forty minutes apart), there are a few reasons I chose to explore Fox Glacier. First, it is possible to access Fox on foot, as you can walk along the valley parallel to the glacier and enter it above the  terminal zone (this area should be avoided on all glaciers as falling ice and rushing water make it incredibly dangerous).

Glacier walks at Franz Joseph Glacier must be started by helicopter as there is no footpath entrance to alongside the glacier. This means that Fox Glacier is much less weather dependent, and no need for helicopter transport means that glacier walks are more cost-effective. The day of my walk the township woke up to storms and hail, but that didn’t stop our tour!

To explore the glacier, I chose a full day tour with Fox Glacier Guiding, the main tour company proving a number of tour options for all fitness levels and budgets. My full day tour, the Nimble Fox, lasted about six hours, while there are shorter half day hikes as well as heli- hikes and ice climbing courses for those looking for and even more unique ways to explore the glacier.

My glacier hike started with a quick safety overview with our guides at the base office, where we also got suited up with our gear. Everyone is provided with rain pants and jacket, socks, boots, a hat and gloves, as well as ice crampons and a backpack to carry your gear and lunch. Once suited up, we piled into a bus and were driven over to the car park for the glacier. The drive winds you through dense rainforest surrounding the glacier, which provides a stark contrast to the ice-filled valley of Fox Glacier.

The Nimble Fox walk starts with a moderate hike up the valley wall, parallel to the glacier but still on solid ground. Following this trail, my small group of six hikers and two guides got a magnificent view of the entire glacier, moving beyond the areas open to the general public and up closer to the glacier. When we reached the access point, we were instructed on how to put on Ahmad use our crampons, and then the ice walk began.

The first steps on the ice are remarkable. While it took a few minutes to get my footing on the ice, I was already very impressed by the color and clarity of the ice, shining a beautiful and translucent ice blue that almost seems artificially colored. After a bit of walking around and practicing the technique for walking on an incline, walking on ice became almost as easy as walking on the ground.

We stayed on the ice for about three hours, following our guides first along set paths and ice steps carved by the company, and then veering off the path to get a closer look at some of the unique ice features. Our guides did a great job of providing a clear, safe path for us to walk on by going ahead to cut out small steps over any areas that may be too steep or slippery. They were also extremely knowledgeable about where the coolest ice features were, including some deep crevasses we could lean over, ice caves to crawl into, and ice tunnels that you could walk through and get a picture on the other side.

The ice on glaciers moves very quickly, and the features change every day, giving us new territory to explore all over the glacier. We ate a picnic lunch on the glacier around noon, and luckily caught a bout of sunshine despite the intermittent rain storms that day. Prepared with all the right gear, though, the weather barely phased us on the ice; it truly is an all-weather activity.

When the group was sufficiently tired out (the guides made sure to ask us whether we wanted to go on at key points in the walk), our guides led us back down the glacier, stopping briefly at a huge glacial pond to allow us to taste some amazingly refreshing glacial water.

While none of these ice features can be guaranteed, it was amazing to see such a variety all over the glacier. Walking down, our guides continued to share some great knowledge about glaciers formations, life cycles, and pretty much anything we wanted to know. They were all very informative, and some great personalities as well.

Overall, a guided glacier walk is an excellent way to experience the unique natural beauty that New Zealand has to offer. Don’t miss it next time you’re there!

Note: The author was hosted for this glacier walk by Fox Glacier Guiding however all opinions and commentary are her own.

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