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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrFox Glacier, also known as Te Moeka o Tuawe in the indigenous Maori language, is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Winding down the Fox Valley from the high peaks of the Southern Alps, the glacier surges through temperate rainforest before terminating 250m above sea level and only 12km from the Tasman Sea.
It is the longer and faster moving of the two famous West Coast glaciers, the other being the Franz Josef Glacier . During high season, around 1,000 people daily visit the glacier.
The glacier was named in 1872 after a visit by the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir William Fox .
GeologyThe glacier is located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of the South Island.
Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier falls 2,600m on its 13km journey from the Southern Alps down to the coast. It is one of the few glaciers that end among lush rainforest. The glacier has been retreating throughout most of the last 100 years.
Vertical schist rock walls in the Fox Glacier valley are over one kilometer high. The glacier ground them out around 18,000 years ago when the ice reached all the way to the Tasman Sea. These cliffs tell the geological story of the Southern Alps. The dynamic forces of the tectonic plates colliding along the Alpine Fault built the mountain range, and left these sedimentary rock faces behind.
The outflow of the glacier forms the Fox River. During the last ice age, its ice reached beyond the present coastline, and the glacier left behind many moraines (accumulations of glacial debris) during its retreat. Lake Matheson formed as a kettle lake within one of these moraines. The road to the glacier crosses other ancient moraines from earlier advances and retreats. Short valley walks to the Fox Glacier terminal face or guided glacier walks on to the ice give spectacular views of this dramatic landscape and a unique glacier experience.
The névé or snow catchment area of the glacier is about 36 square kilometers (14 square miles), which is the same size as Norfolk Island . Its valley has more 3,000m (3,048 meter) peaks presiding over it than any other valley in New Zealand. Douglas Peak, Mount Haast, Mount Tasman, Mount Torres and others feed snow into the névé and cast their shadows at sunrise.
Accessing the GlacierAlong with nearby Franz Josef Glacier (23km to the north-east), Fox Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Its terminal face is a walkable 6km from Fox Glacier village/Weheka. The township is located State Highway 6, 171km south of Hokitika.
From Glacier View Road there are several options for walks that take from 2 minutes to 1.5 hours return. To see the glacier up close, you can: walk to the terminal face, take a guided glacier walk, take a heli-hike, or a scenic flight for aerial sightseeing with or without snow landings.
HikingA variety of walks are available around the glacier. Those listed below are among the most popular. Access to all three is gained by driving south for 2km from Fox Glacier township, turning left immediately after crossing the Fox River Bridge.
Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe Valley WalkThe Fox Glacier Valley walk offers spectacular glacier views. Leaving from the car park at the end of the glacier access road, the easy track winds up the valley. The final section of the track to the safety barriers includes a short climb up to the viewing area. The walk is 2.6km return via the same track and takes around 1 hour.
Chalet Lookout TrackCrossing mountain streams, the Chalet Lookout Track leads to a lookout providing excellent views of the lower icefall of Fox Glacier. The track winds gently up through rata and kamahi forest along an old glacier access road built in 1937, passing by a huge boulder, called ‘Bivvy Rock’ – typical of the natural shelters used by trampers and climbers.
The track then climbs more steeply to a moraine dumped by the glacier in 1750, and continues on to the unbridged Mills Creeks. As you come to the end of the track, a clearing marks the site of the historic Chalet Hut, a luncheon hut used during the early days of glacier walks. The track is an easy 3.6km return via the same track, and takes around 1.5 hours.
Moraine WalkThis walk is the easiest of all, taking you over old moraine surfaces and dramatically revealing how quickly plants establish here, and how the age of the bush reflects the various ages of the glacial moraines, which it has colonized. The track is a short 1.4km return via the same track, taking around 40 minutes.
Other InformationIt is extremely important not to go beyond the barriers nor climb without guides onto the glacier. The glacier’s rapid advance creates dangers of sudden ice and rockfalls.
For more information visit the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Center on State Highway 6 in Franz Josef, or the Department of Conservation office in Hokitika.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Jul 20, 2015