Top 10 Amazing Facts About Fox Glacier

If you think that all of the world’s most awesome glaciers are located on the face of great mountains that only the most experienced climbers can reach, then you surely haven’t heard of this one in New Zealand.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about Fox Glacier, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

1. It’s located on the west coast of New Zealand’s largest island

Fox Glacier is a huge glacier located on the west coast of South Island, the largest island in New Zealand. As of today, it has a length of about 13 kilometers (8.1 miles).

It’s one of the main attractions of the mesmerizing “Westland Tai Poutini National Park,” a park established in 1960 that covers an area of 1,319.8 square kilometers (509.6 square miles).

The other main attraction inside this park is another huge glacier, the slightly smaller Franz Josef Glacier which has a length of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) and is located just nearby.

The nearest village is called Fox Glacier village / Weheka, a small town situated just near the foot of the glacier’s terminus.

Just south of the national park you can also explore the Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. The main attraction of this park is Mount Cook / Aoraki, the highest mountain in New Zealand at a height of 3,724 meters (12,218 feet).

Fox Glacier facts
The amazing Fox Glacier / Wiki Commons

2. It’s fed by 4 alpine glaciers and ends near a rainforest

The glacier originates at a height of about 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level in a mountain range called the “Southern Alps.” It’s fed by 4 smaller alpine glaciers at this height.

If you think that this is relatively low, then you’re correct, especially because this huge moving river of ice descends about 13 kilometers (.1 miles) down the flanks of the mountains in this range.

The result is that the terminus of the glacier is located at an elevation of just 300 meters (980 feet) above sea level near temperate rainforests, making it one of the easiest glaciers to access in the world!

The glacier eventually deposits its chunks of ice into the Fox River which it forms. This river releases into the Cook River / Weheka after just 8 kilometers (5 miles) before releasing into the Tasman Sea.

Fox Glacier upper part
The upper part of the glacier / Stewart Nimmo /

3. It’s one of the few glaciers that advanced between the 1980s and 2000s

The general trend of glaciers is that they retreat, mainly caused by the higher temperatures worldwide over the past decades. One would assume that a glacier located at such a low elevation level would follow that path as well.

Even though the glacier is quickly retreating since 2009, it actually advanced quite a bit between the years 1985 and 2009. Granted, it had retreated quite a bit already in the previous century, but this notion is still quite interesting.

Back in 2006, levels of an advance of 1 meter (3 feet) per week were reported. Since 2009, all this gained ground has been lost again due to an equally fast retreat. The maximum level of 2009 can easily be seen based on the vegetation line.

Fox Glacier vegetation line
View of the glacier after retreating / Matthias Basler /

4. The glacier left behind multiple lakes since the last Ice Age

Even though the glacier has moved back and forth quite a bit over the past decades and centuries, this is nothing compared to the length it had during the last Ice Age.

During this period, there was no Fox River because the glacier ended beyond what is today the coastline known as the West Coast on South Island.

After this icy period in the world’s history was finished, the glacier retreated and left behind multiple moraines and glacial lakes, including the magnificent lake known as “Lake Matheson.”

The reflective views of the Southern Alps in the background, including Mount Cook / Aoraki, make this one of the most picturesque spots in New Zealand.

Lake Matheson and Mount Cook
Lake Matheson and Mount Cook / Aoraki / Ogwen /

5. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand

The natural beauty of the area Is quite astounding. It features two amazing national parks and multiple natural wonders which makes this one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand.

This in combination with the fact that Fox Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers in the world to access makes this region pretty much a must-visit attraction in the country.

Tourism already started in the early 20th century and with the development of roads during the 1930s and 1940s, access to the glacier became even easier. This has resulted in thousands of tourists visiting the glaciers and other attractions every day during the holiday season.

Fox Glacier closer view
Closer view of the glacier / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about Fox Glacier

6. Fox Glacier is officially known as “Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe.” This is a combination of the name it received in 1872 in honor of the Premier of New Zealand at the time, Sir William Fox (1812-1893).

The other name was the name given to the glacier by the local Māori people, Te Moeka o Tuawe, which translates to “The Bed of Tuawe.”

7. The story about this name refers to a girl named Hine Hukatere who invited her boyfriend Tuawe to climb the mountains with her. He wasn’t that good of a climber and an avalanche swept him away and eventually killed him.

The girl was so devastated by this incident that she cried endless tears which eventually created the glacier. Te Moeka o Tuawe is considered to be the final resting place of Tuawe.

Fox Glacier hiking
Hikers on the glacier / Lwtt93 /

8. The first Europeans to lay eyes on the glacier did so in 1857. This was the year that a local Māori led Leonard Harper and Edwin Fox to both the Fox and Franz Jozef Glaciers.

A German geologist named German geologist Julius von Haast was the first man to map the glaciers and named them after Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. It wasn’t until 1872 that the glacier was renamed Fox Glacier.

9. About 200 meters (656 feet) above the glacier, on the southwest face of Chancellor Ridge, a hut was built between 1930 and 1931. This hut was named “Chancellor Hut” and had to be constructed by manually bringing materials up here.

Today, it’s the oldest of its kind located in the Southern Alps and has been listed on the New Zealand Heritage site as a Category II Historic Building.

10. The most popular way to explore the glacier is by taking a helicopter ride all the way up to the so-called “névé” of the glacier. From here you not only get an amazing view of the glacier, but also the magnificent surroundings of the national parks.

Yes, the helicopter literally lands right on top of the glacier, an amazing location!

Top of Fox Glacier helicopter
View from the top of the glacier / Stewart Nimmo /