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In the Corner of the World: Fox Glacier



The thought of hiking a glacier evokes images of arctic expeditions involving months of travel and thousands of dollars worth of gear. You don't expect anyone to ever describe a trip to a glacier as "convenient" or the hike as "leisurely." But leave it to New Zealand to do everything differently, including seemingly arduous outdoor activities. New Zealand's Fox Glacier is one of the world's most accessible glaciers and provides an opportunity for adventurers of varying aptitudes to explore one of nature's disappearing wonders.

Fox Glacier is a mere ten minute drive from the local township and a few hundred meters from the car park that has been built for visitors. And since it resides within Westland National Park, it's free for anyone who wants to come and take a gander. But if you want to truly experience the glacier by hiking on its icy terrain, your best bet is to hire a guide, strap on some crampons and get out there with the proper gear and supervision.

While you are not required to have a guide to hike Fox Glacier, it is strongly recommended that only experienced hikers with proper gear attempt it on their own. For casual hikers or curious tourists, guides are necessary to keep you safe and to make the trip has fun and educational as possible. Fox Glacier Guiding provides just such a service and they led my group on a gray October afternoon.

Beyond providing a guide, Fox Glacier Guiding equips their guests with proper boots, socks and crampons. After a short shuttle bus ride to glacier site, we set off on the walk to the glacier. While the hike is by no means backbreaking, it does involve upwards of 700 steps that have been built into the hills of the neighboring rainforest that abuts the glacier, as well as a stepladder that sits at roughly a 45-degree angle. People of all ages and abilities can traverse the path, but be sure to bring water to stay hydrated and let your guide know about any health concerns you may have.

Lest you think I am exaggerating the need for a guide and to follow instructions posted along the paths, keep in mind that two Australian brothers who went outside the designated hiking area were killed at Fox Glacier in January 2009. Like any natural wonder, Fox Glacier must be respected and common sense should be used when enjoying it.

After a meandering walk through the rainforest and along some gorgeous and only mildly-harrowing cliffs, we finally arrived at the base of Fox Glacier. We spent about an hour or so on the glacier with our guide, Rodger, while learning about the its formation and recession. Fox Glacier Guiding maintains the glacier paths an ensures that tourism doesn't damage the ecosystem.

After several hours we made our way back to town and were no worse for wear. It was hard to believe that we had left our hotel rooms, hiked a glacier and made it back in one relatively easy day. No charts or ice-breaking ships were needed and I did most of the walk in shorts, as my body temperature rose from walking uphill continuously. It definitely gets chilly on the glacier face, so be sure to pack layers so that you can manage your comfort level. And if you run out of water, there's a constant supply running through the glacier and down nearby waterfalls that is cold and pure.

While New Zealand is known for activities like bungee jumping and Zorbing, its best attribute is the diverse landscape. Everyday in New Zealand should be spent outside, and there are few better places to do that than Fox Glacier.

Mike Barish traveled to New Zealand on a trip sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Mike was free to report openly on his experiences. He never spit out the wine and managed not to cry during any of the death-defying activities that Kiwis love. At least not in public. Read more of Gadling's In the Corner of the World series here.

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