Walking on Fox Glacier

When we were looking up the different options of hikes on Fox Glacier we found that the full day hike was a much better value for money. At only 50 NZD more you get to spend around 4-5 hrs on the glacier, where as the half day you only get around 1-2 hrs on the glacier. The full day is also not suitable for young children, so you’re more likely to be in a group of only adults. Before you book, check the weather forecast so that you can book it for the best weather. You’ll enjoy it so much more in the sun than in the grey rain.

We had an early start as we were staying about 45min drive from Fox Village, we had to all be there at 8am for the safety and introduction talk and they kitted us all out with crampons, hiking boots, they even lend you rucksacks and waterproof gear if you should need it. You will need to bring your own lunch, water and snacks. Other items you will need are; sunglasses, a beanie/hat/cap, gloves, three layers on your upper body (I found that my thermal and a flannel shirt with my waterproof wind jacket was more than enough). I wore shorts and knee high socks, it was warm enough.

A bus took us to the car park near the glacier, there was two groups, 12 in each group and one guide each. Our guide was a girl from Alaska, Gretchen and she was awesome, full of energy and happy to answer our questions and she could really swing an ice axe! At the car park we had our last toilet visit for the next 6-7 hrs, before we started the 1,5-2 hrs hike through the rainforest.

By running tests on the vegetation below the glacier, scientists can find out how long ago it was since the glacial ice had covered that particular area. The rainforest that we walked through to reach the glacier was around 150-200 years old. We could also see the significant lines and changes in vegetation on the sides above the glacier, which marked where the glacier had once been. We were also shown how much the glacier had retracted since the late 90’s and it was astonishing. Fox Glacier continuously grows and retracts, but unfortunately it does now grow at the same speed it retracts, they will require some very snowy winters for that. There are pictures that show how small it was back in 1998 and how it then grew bigger again around 2003 and now it’s back to being as small as in 1998, if not smaller.

Once we came out of the rainforest and neared the glacier, we stopped to strap on our crampons and grab a walking stick for extra stability. What’s unique about Fox Glacier is that they cut out new steps every day, as the glacier can change and move up to 7 M per day! (this does not mean that it retracts by 7M per day though). A group of Fox Glacier Guides will go out early every morning and cut out steps for the following guided groups to get onto the glacier and your group guide will also cut out steps as and when needed during your walk. We took our first steps on the glacier and got the hang of the crampons pretty fast, as long as you keep your feet apart it’s all cool. You don’t want those crampons to catch on each other and go face first on the ice!

It’s hard to describe what it was like, I have never done anything like it before. I’ve grown up being very used to a lot of snow and done a lot of winter activities, but never walked with crampons or on a glacier. I was very excited to find out and see what the day had in store for us. The glacier isn’t exactly snowy white as you may expect, its full of rocks and gravel debris that has fallen from the side moraine onto the glacier as it moves. It’s quite astonishing when you see some of the really big rocks in the middle of the glacier, it makes you wonder how long they have been there for and how they got there. Our guide told us that a couple of weeks previously to our tour, she’d had a lady ask her why they didn’t clean the glacier from all the debris.

We walked further up the valley of the glacier and after about an hour and a half we stopped to have our lunch, so there we were sitting in the middle of Fox Glacier, in the sunshine, eating our packed lunch. You could have a worse view for your lunch I suppose! After lunch, Gretchen had found a crevasse with an underflowing ice melt river that we got to climb down to check out. It was like a narrow zigzag ice cave that ended in a deep hole where all the water flowed down. It was fascinating to see. After this we headed further up the valley and ended up in a very large crevasse where we could all have our picture taken. This place did not look real, it looked like a green screen back drop and til this day I still find it hard to believe that we were there when I look at the photos.

We struck luck after the ‘instagram corner’, when Gretchen found us a little ice cave to climb through. She checked it for safety, cut out some ice steps for us, secured a safety line and let us go through it one by one. It wasn’t a big cave, but it was an awesome experience to climb through it and at the back of the cave there was a large deep hole down into the glacier abyss, it was amazing! After this we started our decent towards the end of the glacier. Luckily we didn’t have to take the long hike through the rainforest on the way back, we got to take a short cut and walk by the glacier terminus instead.

One more treat that we got, was to see the fantastic kettle lake nearby the car park, it looked like a picture of the earth from a satellite. It was so brightly blue and green, it was incredible. It was created by large amounts of glacial ice melts and from what I can remember the green parts are some form of algae created in the water, I can’t remember the official name of it though. All I remember is that it looked incredible!

I have to say, of all the touristy things we have done throughout this trip – this was by far the best and I would say the best value too! If you go to New Zealand, spend the extra money and do this, you won’t regret it!

Read more on Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier here & here.

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