Fox Glacier, New Zealand – What’s It Like Hiking On Ice?

Fox Glacier, New Zealand | Bel Around The World

You have no idea how much we were looking forward to paying a visit to the famed Fox Glacier while planning our South island New Zealand travels.

If the idea of sitting on a helicopter and walking on ice doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat, what will?

Fox Glacier

The night before we were scheduled to fly at Fox Glacier, we experienced torrential rain. We were hoping that this fierce rain could wash the sky away of clouds and reward us with a clear day the next day. Despite our crossed fingers and touching of wood, the skies weren’t letting up even on the next day. New Zealand’s rain has so much stamina, we could only resign ourselves to fate.

We reported to the reception for the weather check 15 minutes before our scheduled timing at Fox Glacier Guiding Co. HQ base, hoping that against all odds, there may be a glimmer of sunshine through the thick grey clouds. With a dismayed sigh, we retreated back to our campervan when we learned that all the flights were cancelled that day.

We sat ourselves down and discussed the possible alternatives. Stall for another day hoping that the weather might turn for the better the next morning, or skip this tour entirely and move on with the rest of our South island itinerary as planned? The answer was evident. We wouldn’t let the weather gods play us. Seeing that all of us were so fervently looking forward to what might be our first and last time being atop a glacier, we couldn’t just let this opportunity go.

We made the best of our day through the intermittent rain and shine by visiting the terminal face of the glacier at Franz Josef on our own, complete with its own set of spectacular views of the glacier and sky-high waterfalls. More in this post: See New Zealand’s Glacier For Free!

Fox Glacier

How are glaciers formed?

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is the largest and most fluid of the West Coast glaciers. The névé or snow catchment area of the Fox Glacier is about 36 square kilometres long.

Large quantities of rain or snow is collected in the névé, a catchment area at the upper part of the glacier which collects snow that has not yet been compressed into ice.

Gravity caused the snow to be compressed from the névé down the glacier valleys. During this process, the snowflakes would decompose and be compressed into what you see at the glacier – hard blue ice that are hundreds of metres deep. The high snowfall continuously push ice down the valleys and turn into ice. Gravitational force forces the moving masses of ice to gnaw at anything in its path to reach the terminal face at the bottom of the glacier. When the glaciers flow over uneven bedrock on the valley floor, the ice break up, forming mazes of crevasses, arches and pinnacles that we now see on the surface. This entire process takes anywhere from 15 to 25 years.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

The surface ice structure is so fluid and dynamic, it never stays the same at any one day. What you see now would differ from summer, and again change next winter. Because of global warming, the ice is melting rapidly. From the markings on the surrounding valley walls, we could see how much higher the ice used to be.

The Fox Glacier Helicopter + Hiking Experience

After the confirmation of our tour, we proceeded to put on our waterproof jacket and pants, and changed to hiking boots and socks.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

We were then taken to the helicopter landing zone for a 4-minute helicopter ride up to Fox Glacier. You cannot imagine how exhilarated we were, sitting on a helicopter for the first time in our lives! It’s quite a moving experience for me, being so close to Earth and yet so high at the same time. It felt like I was in my own space capsule.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier
Helicopter to transport us to Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Inside the helicopter, Fox Glacier

Take this journey with us in this video as we fly from the base to the glacier and back!

The first obstacle we faced upon landing was not how cold it was atop Fox Glacier, considering we were 700 metres above sea level, but how difficult it was to walk on ice. Even ice skaters have skates. So we quickly fitted on crampons, which made walking on ice become a breeze. No longer do you see ballerinas twirling around the frictionless ice.

Fox Glacier

Armed with an ice axe in hand, our guide led us on a journey of ice discovery.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier reaches up to a height of 2800 metres, but where we were walking, it was only 700 metres high, with the ground ice that go as deep as 30 metres.

Imagine falling through the deep holes caused by the punctuation of running water, which has really happened to the phones of several selfie victims. The glacier can both be fascinating and terrifying, which is why the guides were present to ensure our safety.

Fox Glacier

At this altitude in May when we went, temperatures are about 5 degrees, though it feels much warmer than we thought, because we are also closer to the sun. All that snooping around the ice crevasses trying to fit in the little caves in Fox Glacier also works up a sweat!

Fox Glacier

If you notice the ground ice, there are parts that are bluer than others. The darker the colour of the ice, the denser the ice is, while the white parts of the ice signifies the presence of air pockets.

Fox Glacier

The water that flows through here is also some of the purest. So pure, you could drink it straight from the streams that flow down.

Over the course of 2-3 hours, we went through, over, under, on and between the different ice formations at Fox Glacier. We watched the only living organism survive in these extreme conditions. We drank from little pools of ice water. We watched ice melt and flow down the névé. We climbed up and down the deep pockets of ice structures. If we were still enough, we could hear the echoes of mini avalanches as huge blocks of ice tip over deep hollow spaces.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier
Hacking ice on Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

“So was it worth it?”

“Hell yeah!”

It was such a rewarding experience, learning about how glaciers are formed and actually being on Fox Glacier itself. We felt so fulfilled after a long morning of ice hiking, that not even an afternoon of heavy shower that came after could dampen our mood that day.

Fox Glacier

Watch our full road trip video here:

Special thanks to Fox Glacier Guiding Co for such an opportunity to experience one of Earth’s greatest natural forces in action.

Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about it!


18 May, Wednesday – 19 May 2016, Thursday


Click here for more of my adventures in New Zealand.

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21 Comment

  1. My hubby and I climb Franz Joseph Glacier…. oh nearly 14 years ago. It was an experience I’ll never forget! Fasntastic!

    1. Hi Kelly,

      Wow that’s a long time ago! I believe much of the glacier has receded since then.. Pity. Glad it brought up good memories for you! 🙂


  2. This looks epic! I recently went to Iceland where I was able to see some glaciers similar to these. It was so serene and beautiful!

    1. Hi Madeline,

      It’s not epic until you’re actually wearing those crampons and waltzing around on ice! 😛


  3. Marie says: Reply

    Sounds like a cool experience!!! 🙂

    1. It sure is, Marie! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Sarah says: Reply

    Wow amazing photos! I live in NZ so this is basically my back yard but Fox Glacier is somewhere I have never visited and this is an experience I have never had anywhere!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      You’re a lucky girl! Are you Kiwi? I haven’t had enough of NZ, having spent 3 weeks there!

  5. Hayley says: Reply

    Wow that looks amazing!! I love how blue it is!

    I was due to take a helicopter flight when I stayed in Franz Josef but the weather had other ideas. Sadly on the day we left town, 6 tourists and a pilot were killed on Fox Glacier.

    It’s beautiful but dangerous.

    1. Hi Hayley,

      Yeah, another reader told me about it. It’s scary. Did it happen a long time ago?

  6. What an incredible experience! I can only imagine how amazing this glacier adventure must have been like. And your photos are just stunning!

    1. Hi Suzette,

      Thanks I’m flattered! It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience indeed!

  7. Amanda says: Reply

    Wow, this is amazing! What a cool experience!

    Amanda ||

    1. Hi Amanda,

      Yeah it most definitely is! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  8. Laura says: Reply

    This looks amazing! I haven’t been to New Zealand yet, but it this experience seems incredible 🙂

    1. Hi Laura,

      It sure is. Plenty of hiking/ adventure activities/ nature-watching to do here!

  9. This really looks amazing! The photos you got are absolutely stunning and it looks like an incredible experience. Thanks for the tips! xx Adaleta Avdic

    1. Thanks Adaleta, I am glad you enjoyed this post! Thanks for stopping by too!

  10. […] If you’re in New Zealand, you cannot pass up on visiting the magnificence of the West Coast glaciers. I talked in detail about how glaciers are formed in Hiking on Ice at Fox Glacier, New Zealand. […]

  11. […] of the greatest highlights was hiking this glacier that had us awestruck! My post, Hiking on Ice at Fox Glacier, New Zealand, regales my entire adventure flying and hiking atop this magnificent […]

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