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New Zealand’s West Coast is known for its stunning landscapes, making it a great South Island road trip destination. While most people stop at Franz Josef to explore for a few days, I have the perfect little town for those looking for something a bit more quaint and quiet: Fox Glacier.
Fox Glacier Village is most known for being home to Fox Glacier, the twin to Franz Josef Glacier. There are tons of outdoor areas to explore around Fox Glacier and to be honest, after visiting a few times I love that it has a slower vibe than the touristy Franz Josef!
It’s one of the best places to take helicopter tours in New Zealand to the surrounding glaciers or get close up on one of the many hikes at the base of the glacier. The town itself has cute eateries and unique places to stay, making it the perfect stopover for a few days!
To help you get off the beaten path, I’ve put together the 10 best things to do in Fox Glacier so you can enjoy this small town as much as I did!
Don’t have time to read the full article? Check out my absolute favorite things to do in Fox Glacier:
- Land on Fox Glacier to explore as part of a Heli Hike Tour!
- Trek the stunning Fox Glacier South Side Walkway on your own or with a guided tour
- Treat yourself to a delicious meal at Betsey Jane
- Take a sunset nature tour to catch stunning reflections in the waters of Lake Matheson
- Explore the Minnehaha Walk trail at night to spot glow worms!
Things to do in Fox Glacier, New Zealand
1. Heli Hike on Fox Glacier
Obviously, you can’t go to the town of Fox Glacier and not visit the glacier itself! While there are many walks that allow you to see Fox Glacier from a distance (next up on my list!), the way to walk on the actual glacier is by taking this Heli Hike Tour!
This glacier is impressive at 13 kilometers (8 miles) long and made of solid ice! It is certainly one of the best hikes on the South Island. Getting to walk on top of the glacier is truly amazing, but the cool part about going with a guide is that they will take you into crevices and parts of the glacier you didn’t even know existed. I found it super helpful to have a guide, as it made me feel safe and secure the whole time, plus I learned so much about the history and formation of this glacier.
But, this tour is called a Heli Hike tour, so you can expect loads of excitement from the helicopter ride to the top of the glacier! This was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in New Zealand. Seeing the massive glacier from an aerial view before landing on it gives you a new perspective on just how big it is. And when else will you get to fly in a helicopter!?
This Heli Hike Tour will give you three hours on top of the glacier, and two 30-minute helicopter rides. They provide any equipment you’ll need to stay warm and safe, such as crampons, walking poles, a heavy jacket, and waterproof pants. I recommend bringing a backpack with water and snacks, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and if you go during the winter bring a hat and gloves.
This tour will meet in Fox Glacier Village to begin your exciting journey! Kids 9 and up are welcome to join this tour.
You can reserve this experience for $673 NZD per person. And I’m not the only one who loves it – there are hundreds of 5-star reviews of this experience, so you know it’s good!
2. Fox Glacier South Side Walkway/Cycleway
The area surrounding Fox Glacier is full of stunning landscapes. The Fox Glacier South Side Walkway/Cycleway is a great way to experience it all. You can easily explore it on your own, or book this guided tour to gain new insight into the area.
The entire trail is 6.8 kilometers (4 miles) out and back and follows the Fox River, which is fed by runoff from the Fox Glacier. It’s great for an easy hike or mountain biking, and you’ll have viewpoints of the glacier throughout. The trail is easy to track the whole way and is definitely doable on your own. If you choose to go by yourself, check the trail conditions before you go as this area is prone to flooding and falling rocks.
However, if you want a more immersive hiking experience, you can book this guided tour. I would recommend this option for those looking to learn about the rich history of the forest that has been impacted by the glacier. The guides are so good at giving an in-depth look at glaciology, geology, and geothermology which makes this area so unique!
This tour also includes roundtrip transportation from your accommodation in Fox Glacier or Franz Josef, so if you didn’t rent a car for your road trip, this allows you to still explore the area! The tour also includes gear and tea, so if you get caught in the rain you’ll have a hot cup of tea to warm you up! This guided hiking tour can be reserved online for $90 NZD and leaves daily at 1:30 pm.
3. Go on a scenic flight
This area of New Zealand is aptly called “Glacier Country” because there are so many beautiful glaciers and mountains around. Besides Fox Glacier, there are the iconic Franz Josef Glacier, Mount Tasman, Aoraki Mount Cook, and Tasman Glacier.
There is no way you can see all of these remarkable sights in one day … unless you take a scenic flight!
The Grand Tour scenic flight truly fits the description. Over 40 minutes, you will fly past all of the iconic glaciers listed above in a helicopter. This is the only tour that is permitted to land on the snow inside Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Your small group of six people will be the only ones up here – what a remarkable way to experience the vast glacial wilderness! This tour is $590 NZD per person.
We also think this Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight is a great option, and a little bit more budget-friendly! For $434 NZD, you’ll have 30 minutes in a helicopter to explore the glacial falls, see the intricate ice formations and land on the snowfields of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier to grab some photos and make snowballs! The pilots also give commentary along the way, so you learn about the glaciers below.
While scenic flights are certainly an extravagant activity, if it fits in your budget it is totally worth it! Any time I’ve taken a scenic flight, I’ve been blown away by the views and experience as a whole. There is truly nothing like it and I don’t think you can pick a more beautiful area of the world to see from above.
Related Read: One of my favorite scenic flights I’ve ever done is flying from Queenstown to Milford Sound!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
4. Enjoy a meal at Betsey Jane Eatery and Bar
While staying in Fox Glacier is certainly smaller and more limited than staying in Franz Josef, there are still some killer restaurants to check out! My favorite place is Betsey Jane Eatery and Bar. I make a point to stop here any time I’m taking a West Coast road trip!
Betsey Jane’s is somewhat of a hidden gem in this quaint sleepy town. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant with the high-end vibe that it brings, and the food has always been top-notch.
I’ve had the baked brie appetizer, which is melt-in-your-mouth good, and they are well-known for their big juicy burgers! However, I have to brag about the mains like the ribeye steak or slow-cooked lamb ragout – they are all so good you really can’t choose wrong.
But my favorite parts about this place are the overall vibe, friendly and hospitable staff, and the great patio. If you can catch it on a summer evening, it is one of the best places to be in Fox Glacier! While on the more expensive side, it is worth a stop to treat yourself a bit. They are open every day from 4 pm to 1 am and located right in the heart of Fox Glacier – you can’t miss it!
5. See the glacier from Te Kopikopiko o te Waka Peak View
If summiting a glacier or taking a helicopter ride isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are plenty of more attainable ways to experience Fox Glacier. One of the most peaceful areas to do so is Te Kopikopiko o te Waka Peak View.
Located just 7 minutes outside of the town of Fox Glacier, this cultural heritage site holds important history and gives panoramic views of the Southern Alps, including Fox Glacier itself! This flat valley amongst the impressive mountains has been developed into a great walking area. There are walking paths for all fitness levels and a great picnic area to sit and enjoy the views on a nice day.
Te Kopikopiko o te Waka Peak View is also an important part of history, as it tells Ngai Tahu’s story of creation. Kopikopiko o te Waka translates to “capsized canoe” and refers to the creation of the Southern Alps, which are made up of Aoraki’s shipwrecked canoe. Within the park, you’ll see a beautiful canoe sculpture depicting this creation story. So not only do you get to take in the incredible views, but also learn where they came from.
This area has public bathrooms, ample parking, and is wheelchair accessible. I love coming here because it is extremely peaceful and makes for a wonderful afternoon of exploration!
6. Mount Fox Route
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll know that some of the most rewarding hikes in New Zealand are the most difficult ones. Mount Fox Route is certainly one of those challenging but totally worth it in the end experiences. I promise you’ll catch views like you wouldn’t believe! Plus, the climb is super fun consisting of sections to scramble, tackle steep inclines, and pull yourself up as you reach the top.
While this is a challenging hike, I honestly think it is underrated. It is 7 kilometers (4 miles) with 1,162 meters (3,813 feet) of elevation gain bringing you to 1,345 meters (4,412 feet) at the summit. It is a workout, to say the least! But, if you can beat the clouds you’ll have the most stunning views of the valley below, and Fox Glacier, Mount Cook, Mount Abel, and the rest of the Southern Alps.
It took me about 2 to 2.5 hours to reach the top, and I hung out up there for about an hour. Pack some snacks and plenty of water so you can enjoy the incredible views up there! Then it was another 2 to 2.5 hours to the bottom, as you have to go slow on the super steep parts.
It’s recommended not to do this hike if it has been raining the last few days and the views are best on a nice and clear day (and it’s safer!). The trailhead is only about 5 minutes from Fox Glacier Village and there is a small parking lot at the trailhead. Don’t be intimidated by this challenging hike, it is one of the best hikes on the South Island!
Related Read: If more trails are in your future, don’t miss the best hikes in Mount Cook National Park!
7. See stunning reflections at Lake Matheson
This is certainly one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand, and it just happens to be right down the road from Fox Glacier. Lake Matheson is iconically photographable because of its clear water and stunning reflections. On a nice day, you can actually see Mount Cook and Mount Tasman reflected on the surface of the lake!
Lake Matheson also has some great hiking tracks around it. To get directly to the lake, there is a 40-minute easy walk to the Reflection Island viewpoint. Or you can make an afternoon of it and take the full loop around the lake, which will take about 1.5 hours and give you glimpses of the gorgeous reflections throughout! I suggest taking the full loop so you can see the Clearwater River suspension bridges and enjoy the beautiful forest surrounding the lake.
You can explore Lake Matheson on your own, or take a guided nature walk! This is a great way to learn more about the area’s unique ecosystem and long-standing history. Visiting the lake early in the morning or right as the sun is setting is the best time to see the reflections, so booking a tour that includes transportation and tea on the trail is a great way to experience it! This 4-hour guided tour can be reserved for $90 NZD.
Regardless of if you take a guided tour or visit on your own, a stop at Lake Matheson is a must! Especially since it is only 5 minutes from Fox Glacier, it will make for a perfect half-day outing.
8. Day trip to Franz Josef
While it’s tempting to never leave Fox Glacier because of its quiet and quaint vibe, there’s so much more to see at its close neighbor and twin glacier namesake. The town of Franz Josef has everything a tourist could desire. From taking a scenic hike to hitting craft breweries and experiencing wildlife centers, there is so much to do in Franz Josef you’ll need at least one day if not more!
In case you haven’t had enough hiking on your West Coast excursion, The Callery Gorge is another to add to the list! This is a short 5.2-kilometer (3.2-mile) flat hike that leads you to some of the most beautiful shades of blue water you’ve ever seen! The Gorge Viewpoint bridge overlooks the Callery River, where you can really take in the beauty of the blue water and surrounding landscape. The Callery Gorge walk is right in town and will take about 2 hours to complete the entire track!
After you’re done hiking along river trails, it’s time to sit down to a craft beer! SnakeBite Brewery serves the most iconic beers from New Zealand, as well as an assortment of their own brews. Nothing is better than a cold pint after a day of exploring!
The last place I recommend checking out on your day trip to Franz Josef is the West Coast Wildlife Centre to see a real-life Kiwi bird! New Zealand is famous for its unique wildlife, and a visit here not only allows you to see and learn more about these beautiful creatures but also supports their conservation efforts. It’s a win-win for everyone, humans and birds included!
Franz Josef is a convenient day trip from Fox Glacier, but if you can squeeze a few days in to stay in Franz Josef, you won’t regret it! There are a lot of outdoor activities accessible from here, and the town is simply fun to spend time in.
9. Enjoy the short Minnehaha Walk
Minnehaha Walk is a popular, yet short, hiking area just a few minutes outside of Fox Glacier. It is popular due to its lush forest, you’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale! It is also popular at night time since this forest area lights up with glow worms! There are only a handful of places to see glow worms in New Zealand, so the fact that it’s only a few minutes outside of Fox Glacier is a huge perk!
The Minnehaha Walk is a 1.2-kilometer (0.75-mile) loop that meets up with the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway/Cycleway mentioned earlier on this list. If you’re going on a day hike, this is a great option for little kids or people with limited mobility. It has little incline and follows a cute stream through the forest. It’s quite delightful.
If seeing glow worms is on your New Zealand bucket list, you can do so here. You’ll follow the same easy 1.2-kilometer loop and be able to see glow worms right along the trail! They will put on a blue/green bioluminescent light show for you to enjoy. This is also something kids love! It will only take about 20 minutes to walk this path. It’s certainly an enchanting thing to see!
The Minnehaha Walk is completely free and you do not need a tour to visit, whether it’s day or night!
10. Enjoy a beer at the Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon
Located on the main road of Fox Glacier, is the Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon. You can’t miss this, as there are only a handful of restaurants in Fox Glacier, but I love its cozy country atmosphere. It is the perfect place to grab a pint after a day of exploring!
They serve your classic pub fare, burgers, fries, and wings, and also have a super tasty dinner menu. This is where you go for some hearty food! It has a full bar and is open late, so this can be the go-to spot if you want a night out. But I also love this spot for grabbing a casual beer amongst all my outdoor adventures.
If you can catch it on a summer day, the patio offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. But I also love it when it is rainy and cold out, as you can cozy up inside its cabin walls with a roaring stone fireplace.
The Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon is open every day from 8 am to 10 pm. This is the perfect spot to refuel after exploring outside all day!
Where to Stay in Fox Glacier
If you really want to explore the area, it’s worth spending a night or two so you don’t have to rush! Even though only about 300 people live in Fox Glacier, I was actually surprised by how many nice places to stay it has. Whether you’re road-tripping on a budget or looking to splurge, these are my hotel recommendations for every budget!
Luxury – $$$
The Distinction Fox Glacier – Te Weheka Boutique Hotel is like a little escape in the Southern Alps. It’s walking distance from the glacier itself, so the location is awesome. Plus, the mountain views from the rooms are a huge bonus – especially since every room has a balcony. There are all the comforts you’d expect like spacious rooms, fluffy towels, a great breakfast, and even free covered parking.
Rooms start at $445 NZD per night and can be reserved on Booking.com.
Mid-range – $$$
While exploring Glacier Country, Bella Vista Motel Fox Glacier is one of my top picks to stay a night or two. It’s right in the middle of the village itself so it’s easy to explore and I love that it’s only 5 minutes away from Lake Matheson and the trail where you can spot glow worms at night! The rooms are all large and include kitchenettes and fast Wi-Fi.
You can book a Queen Studio here with tons of space for around $150-200 NZD, although prices do rise in the busy season. Check availability and the best rates on Booking.com.
Budget – $
Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice comfort! Ivory Towers Backpacker Lodge is just a couple minutes outside of Fox Glacier Village, but that means you get to be surrounded by rainforest and mountains. There’s a hot tub (with an amazing view of the stars at night!), a sauna, and a sun deck along with kitchen and barbecue facilities.
The cheapest option is to book a bed in a dorm room for around $40 NZD, but if sharing isn’t your thing, private rooms are available for around the $150 NZD mark. You can book both options on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
I hope you found this blog on the best things to do in Fox Glacier helpful for your trip! This cute town packs a big punch when it comes to epic scenery nearby. Whether you’re planning a few hikes or just looking for a fun road trip stop, Fox Glacier is a great place to check out. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
Before you go, make sure to check out my other South Island blogs! There’s everything from road trip guides to hidden gems and some of my favorite activities. After living and traveling across New Zealand, I love sharing my experiences so you can plan the trip of a lifetime!