Outfoxing New Zealand’s Fox Glacier

Benjamin Jones

Te Moeka o Tuawe, or the Fox Glacier as it is more commonly known is a vast sheet of compacted ice and snow that sits in New Zealand’s Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

Amid the wild and untamed landscape of the country’s South Island, the glacier attracts visitors from across the globe seeking to explore its ever changing icy landscape. Fed by four alpine glaciers the Fox Glacier wends its way 13km through the Southern Alps and down the Fox River.

Like all of New Zealand’s glaciers the Fox has seen periods of vast growth and retreat, and is responsible for shaping the surrounding environment and creating some areas of inspiring natural beauty.

With such an array of environments to explore what’s the best way to experience all that the Fox Glacier region has to offer?

This was the question I found myself struggling to answer as I contemplated the merits of investing in a half day heli hike, tandem skydive and ice climbing excursion.

For the budget traveller, exploring New Zealand requires a delicate balance of finance management and once in a lifetime adventures. With so many regions worthy of a place on your itinerary it can be difficult to choose where to spend and when to save.

Exploring Fox Glacier on a budget

Fortunately on our arrival at the Fox Glacier Holiday Park the friendly receptionist told us about their new range of Outfoxing Guides.

A short series of DIY guidebooks, these foxy itineraries showcase the best of the region’s natural beauty, without the need for helicopter rides and expensive guided tours.

For the sum of just $4 the team at Fox Glacier can transform you into a local guide with expert knowledge of Lake Matherson’s rainforest giants, the glow worms of the Minnehaha Trail or the history of the Fox Glacier Valley.

Want to know more? Here’s my guide to getting Foxy with an OutFoxing Guide.

The Fox Glacier valley walk


START // Drive south for two kilometres from Fox Glacier township, and turn left immediately before the Fox River bridge.

TIME // 1 Hour Return

It’s a common misconception that the only way to see the glacier is from above or via a heli hike excursion.

Following this 2.6km return route through a deep valley gorge this Outfoxing Guide talks you through the remarkable journey of the surrounding cliffs from their origins in Australia, and the evolution of the glacier.

Unlock the secrets of the frozen river of ice as you admire the terminal face, and learn of the Maori legends that bring the glacier to life.

The lake Matheson trail


START // Turn onto Cook Flat Road in the middle of Fox Glacier township (this is well signposted). Travel 5 km along this road then turn right onto the side road to Lake Matheson.

TIME // 90 Minutes Return

This series of 3 Outfoxing Guides delves deep into the geology of New Zealand’s west coast.

Uncovering the indomitable influence of the Alpine Fault, the varied divaricating plants of the surrounding wetlands and the fruition of the Lake Matherson after the last ice age, this 90 minute walk offers insight into the building blocks of the surrounding landscape.

From hunting down umbrella fans and climbing clubmoss to standing in the shadow of the giant kahikatea that line the path, these guides take you on an ecological and geographical journey around the lake’s edge.

The Minnehana glow worm walk


START // Walk south through Fox Glacier township approximately 50 metres past the Bella Vista Motel.

TIME // 20 Minutes Return

When the sun sets grab your torch and your guide to the weird and wacky life of a glow worm, and head down the Minnehaha track in search of the thousands of tiny night lights that illuminate the path.

Find out how these little chaps deal with turf wars, their place in the Maori story of creation and how to tell when they’re hungry.

The moraine walk


Image | hadevereux

START // Drive 2 km south from Fox Glacier township, and turn left immediately after crossing the Fox River Bridge. The Glacier View Road is narrow and unsealed so take care as you navigate to the car park at the end of this road.

TIME // 30 Minutes One Way

Grab this series of 2 Outfoxing Guides and reveal how Mother Nature reclaimed the pile of debris left behind by the retreating Fox Glacier.

Spot the examples of aerial roots, 400 year old rata forest and follow the line of the glacier as it retreated throughout recent history. Quote fun facts from your guide and learn about the choker rata that grows atop dying nurse trees to leave a seemingly impossible timber structure.

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Having utilised these handy guides during our walk around Lake Matherson and while on the lookout for glow worms along the Minnehaha trail, I can vouch for the fact that they offer the most cost effective tour through this unending alpine landscape.

For the cost of the spare change in your back pocket an Outfoxing Guidebook offers budget travellers the chance to explore the beauty of the Fox Glacier region, and by basing yourself at the Fox Glacier Holiday Park you can have the ultimate in affordable glacial escapes.

Have you spent time in New Zealand’s Glacier Country? Share your comments with me below.

Travel Blogger & Photographer
  1. Hi there! I’m coming to New Zealand in May, and am quite an avid traveller. Was wondering if you’d be interested in a cross blog collaboration? Rebekah Davey

  2. So did y’all hike on the glacier itself? We did a glacier hike with Fox Guides. I never really considered heli-hiking because it was out of our budget, and we really just wanted to get on the glacier itself. Loved the experience, though!

    1. We actually decided to splash out and booked in for the Heli Hike. Flying over the vast sheet of ice and hiking atop the rippled upper reaches of the glacier was a truly unique experience. Having said that we were just as awed by the landscape at ground level. The glow worm walk was mesmerising. We spent hours there after dark while Ben set up for the long exposure shot you can see in this post. It’s such a special part of the south island.

    1. Despite the vast glacial landscape on offer I was most excited to see the glow worms! These guides offered us the chance to explore on our own terms which I love. Having the freedom to see a location at your own pace is always preferable in my book!

  3. Nice to know there are other ways to experience the glacier (like simply walking/hiking). But of course, a heli-ride would probably be awesome :-). The glow worm walk looks really interesting too.

    1. I like to have options when exploring. Cost can play such a big part in just how much you can explore some locations so these Outfoxing Guides are superb as they turn you into your own guide!

  4. Gorgeous photographs! All of the areas are so different, but beautiful in their own right! It seems like these type of activities are always so expensive, so I love that there is a budget option for exploring the glacier-

    1. Thanks for your comment Jenna. Choice is always a great thing to have when it comes to how you spend your travel fund! I think these guides are such a great concept!

    1. They’re such funny little things! I highly recommend the Waitomo caving adventure on the north island and Underworld Adventures’ tour of The Metro on the south!

  5. Nature on a vast scale is humbling. To see such an archaic giant up close is always inspiring! I hope I am fortunate enough to see more during our travels.

  6. Hi Charlie, I’ve been following your blog for quite some time as next March we will be traversing South Island. I’m very intrigued about your article here. Do you think you can really step on the glacier without proper guide? I really want to utilize this outfoxing guide without have to hire an expensive heli!

    1. Hey Lukman, I really appreciate your kind comment, it’s great to hear that you’ve found our NZ content of use.

      With regards to climbing on any of New Zealand’s glaciers, the official line is that you should not unless you have ‘appropriate mountaineering equipment and experience’. If you want to climb a glacier it is absolutely necessary that you carry crampons, ice axes, ropes, helmets, and any other attire and tools that are required for ice climbing and mountaineering. And for safety reasons, it is NOT recommended that you go climbing, walking, or hiking on the glaciers by yourself but that you go with other people.

      These Outfoxing Guides are a superb was to see the landscape that surrounds the glacier, and the vast face of the glacier itself where the sheet of ice begins, but if you would like to explore the glacier further, I strongly urge you to book in with Fox Glacier guides. There are a number of options, but in my view the heli tour offers the best value for money. The trip is spectacular and offers a great perspective of the sheer scale of the ice. Watch out for a post coming soon about our trip with Fox Glacier Guides.

      Take a look at these links for more on self-guiding the glacier, and note that in recent years people have lost their lives by ignoring the recommend safety precautions.



      I hope you have a successful trip, do reach out to us via email if you have any further questions, or take a look at our IG photo essay from the West Coast!


  7. Awesome post, I’ve been to Fox Glacier 3 times in my travels around New Zealand, it’s beautiful. Now is definitely the time to go, I had the best weather in Winter (it rained in summer) and Lake Matheson was beautiful! I even did a skydive there which was terrifying! I love your guide for exploring the area and wish I’d done more of it!

  8. Looks like you didn’t get so lucky with the view of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman at Lake Matheson. The clouds lifted when I went there in the late afternoon. 🙂

  9. Hi Charli,

    I am studying abroad in NZ starting next month! I was wondering about the both the glacier trip and the glow worms. Did you also do a heli trip? Is the cover photo from that or the outfoxing guide trip?

    Also is outfoxing a company or just a guidebook?

    1. Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment. Very jealous to hear that you’re spending a year in NZ. I’d love to head back there one day (soon!).

      I did the heli hike through the Fox Glacier Guiding company located on the high street in the village of Fox Glacier – yes the main image was taken en route to the glacier in the heli. It was expensive but it was one of the coolest – sorry bad pun – things I did whilst down south so if you have the budget I would splash out – alternatively you can heli from Queenstown over The Divide to Fiorland – that is a super cool trip – see here https://wanderlusters.com/alpine-escape-queenstown/

      I spotted the glo worms along the trail to the terminal face of the glacier – a public walkway at the southern end of the village. The Outfoxing Guides are a series of informative guides sold by the Fox Glacier Holiday Park – see here – http://www.fghp.co.nz/out-foxing-guidebooks/

      Hope that helps! Happy trails!

  10. We recently stayed at the Fox Glacier Top 10 and saw the guides you mention. While we were there to do the Extreme Fox with Fox Guides (definitely not a budget travel option) we also thought that the Outfoxing Guidebooks were great – like have a Fox local in your back pocket.

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