Sep 02, 2009
After doing our scary drive through the wilds of deep south island bush, it was quite a relief to come across Fox. A few too many horror films meant in the dark windy roads through the bush with no signs of life for miles, our minds were racing. The cross with wellies hanging off it and the barbed wire fence covered in bras did not help. Definately the only remaining elements of murdered tourists, for sure! Late evening we arrived in Fox, a bit of civilisation and normality, well sort of. We stayed in the Fox glacier lodge, which was actually really lovely. We were in a seperate little wooden lodge. With a double spa bath and a gas fire, if it had been an open log fire it would have been perfect! We'd been told that you get a lot for your money with Accomodation on the West coast, and this wasn't a disappointment! We ate in a restaurant called the Plateau, which was nothing to look at from the outside, and had one of the surrelist waitests I've ever encountered. But the food was awesome, particularly the whitebait fritters to start.Fox Glacier village is principally a spring board to the glacier. The populations around 400 and everyone is either in farming or tourism. Thats quite a boom in population, in 2001 it was only 117! It's a funny little town, that looks like it was built a week ago. Although apparently the town was founded in 1886, there's little evidence of that! 6km down the road is the impressive and convinently accessible Fox Glacier. Now I know everyone at home will instantly think of the mints, but as far as I can make out they have nothing to do with the actual glacier. Fox is a 13km long glacier on the west coast. It's pretty impressive as glaciers go. Fed by four alpine glaciers it spans down 2600m from top to bottom and ends in forest just 300m above sea level. For the majority of the last century it was shrinking but since 1985 it's been advancing, something like 10cm a day. It's an easy walk from the township, or like us you can do a guided trek, which ferries you to the bottom. The terminal face (end) of the glacier is really dangerous due to falling ice and rock. Two Australian tourists in 2009 went to pose for photos in a cave at the terminal face. They were crushed by more than a hundred of tonnes of ice, they recovered one body but thought the other bloke would have to remain where he was as it was too dangerous to dig him out. However a week later he was found 10km down stream. So there's barriers stopping people getting to close to the glacier, and you're not supposed to go beyond these without a guide. This I would throughly recommend! It pretty intimidating the massive wall of ice. The glacier in the ice age stretched all the way out past the current coast line. It then retreated forming the valley of the fox river which is the outflow of the glacier and producing multiple moranies. Lake Matheson formed in one of these. The drive from the road up to the glacier has signs marking where the glacier terminated at different points during history. We had an excellent guide called Sampang. He was actually a bonefide sherpa from Nepal. He was full of interesting facts about the glacier and was a good laugh. Although he did keep pointing out that he was extrordinarily fit, despite smoking, not the best health advert! The valley is prone to sudden flash floods if there is heavy rain fall and he pointed out where the car park and path to the glacier used to be before it was washed away! The trek started with an easy amble to the base of the glacier followed by 800 steps up through the bush beside it! I think those bloody steps are the sole reason that they advice that people have to have moderate fitness. Lucky for us we weren't the most unfit in the group and you're nice and toasty by the time you get to the top. Crampons then applied (they are provided and any other gear including boots if you need them) we struck out on to the ice. It's really worth doing the whole day trek if you can, because the half day you just about put a foot on the ice and you have to turn around. However with the full day, you trek on the ice for around 3hrs and climb up to a high point on the glacier with dramatic ice peaks and walls and crevasses. The guide cuts you a fresh path in the ice with an axe, if you're behind them don't get too close! There's a slightly chilly lunch (which you need to take yourself) half way through the day, felt very strange to be half way up a glacier munching on a sandwich. I really enjoyed the day, it was really interesting and the glacier was beautiful. The ice at the tail of the glacier is really dirty and full of sendiment from ground moraine. But when you travel up into the glacier the ice is clean and crisp with the most beautiful shades of blue interspersed with white. With careful instruction from Sampang, we could wander down into the crevasses and caves formed by ice. I really recommend this trip! Following the walk down, where you take the short cut and miss out the steps (why oh why coudn't we have gone up this way!?!) and we hit the road to head onto Hokatika. I wouldn't advice driving any further than this after the trek. We were pretty cream crackered.