Kia ora: Fox Glacier township

Thousands visit the ice in this world-famous beauty spot, writes Elisabeth Easther.
Visitors to South Westland hike up Fox Glacier. Photo / Thinkstock
Visitors to South Westland hike up Fox Glacier. Photo / Thinkstock

Where is it? In South Westland in the South Island. A two-hour drive from Hokitika, four to five hours by car from Queenstown or five to six hours from Christchurch - it depends how many photos you take along the way.

Origin of name: In 1872, Sir William Fox, the second premier of New Zealand, visited and it was named for him. Maori knew the town as Weheka.

Population: Approximately 275 locals, rising steeply during the summer tourist season, with close to 1000 people passing through each day.

Cool fact: During the last ice age the Fox Glacier ice reached beyond the current coastline.

Best websites: glaciercountry.co.nz and foxguides.co.nz.

Main employer: Tourism and farming.

Source of pride: Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson. Both are within Westland's Tai Poutini National Park and part of Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, meaning the region's natural beauty is internationally recognised.

Town fiestas: Fox Glacier Big Day Out is an annual community fundraiser with stalls, fun runs, walks, mud runs, wheelie bin and wheelbarrow races, rubber duck racing, raffles and much more. The town is imbued with a healthy dose of community spirit. There's also the Woodham Shield, an annual rugby competition between Whataroa, Ross, Fox/Franz/Haast and Hari Hari teams. Hotly contested.

Here for a short time? Definitely visit Fox Glacier Valley and Lake Matheson.

Best reason to stop: Your jaw will drop when you see what nature can do.

Best place to take the kids: Fox Glacier Valley is an educational and awe-inspiring walk into a magical land, like nothing most people will have ever seen.

Go fish: The South Westland Salmon Farm on the Haast highway has holding ponds teeming with huge fish and, when you feed them, the activity is intense. You can dine there, too.

Best playground: Aside from all the fun to be had in the great outdoors, Fox Glacier School has a playground perfect for burning off excess energy.

Loo with a view: The long drop up Chancellor Dome, you'll be moved to linger.

Best walk: There are so many walks, from short strolls to intense multi-day hikes. For the fit who want to put in a bit more effort, try scaling Mt Fox, it's about eight hours return and really steep. The walkway around Lake Matheson is beautiful, too, and if you time it right you'll be wowed by reflections of New Zealand's highest peaks, Tasman and Cook (Aoraki). The Minnehaha is a decent 20-minute loop, go at night and see glow-worms, don't forget your torch.

Best view: If you want to stay in the car, drive to the Peak View lookout on Cook Flat Rd, where you'll be rewarded with views of the Southern Alps, Fox Glacier and surrounding farmland.

The view from the long drop at Chancellor Dome. Photo / Supplied

Best shop: The Hobnail Souvenir Shop is great for fossicking around in.

Tops for coffee: Paula from The Hobnail Cafe makes a damn fine brew. This is the only cafe you can get breakfast in in the actual township.

Best pizza: Cafe Neve's pizzas do the trick nicely.

Best food: The Last Kitchen is renowned for its blue cod and Lake Matheson Cafe pleases punters with its outside deck's spectacular views, sunset is a speciality.

Wet your whistle: Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon for a cold pint, there's an open fire in winter and bands in summer.

Best mountain biking: Fox Glacier Valley Cycleway is a great joyride through magical rainforest, an easy uphill to the glacier and a pleasant downhill home. The swing bridge over the Fox River is also worth a stop.

Best adventures: Marvel at the Fox Glacier Guiding Heli Hike or Chancellor Dome Heli Trek or try ice climbing - there's something for most fitness levels and you'll be kitted out with most of the gear you'll need.

Best-kept secret: Small towns don't have secrets - everybody knows everything, like it or not.

Wildlife: Keep your eyes peeled for kea, native falcons, chamois, thar, tomtits, blue duck, fantails, rock wrens, fur seals, glow-worms and, least delightful, those sandflies.

One more thing: Gillespies Beach, about 21km away, is amazing with its smooth flat round oval stones and crazy stumps of drift wood. There's a lagoon, a short walk to the miners' cave and a longer walk to a seal colony (can't guarantee seals).

Safety first: Don't feed the kea, give them an inch and they'll take a mile, plus you won't be doing their health any favours. And please don't cross the Department of Conservation safety barriers leading to the glacier, as you'll put your life and your rescuers' lives in danger. And the Search and Rescue boys are terrific, last week they received the NZSAR Gold Award for Operational Activity.

Visitors say: This place is cool.

Locals say: And foxy.

Thanks to Jo Wisniewski and the team from Fox Guides for lifting the lid on paradise.

- NZ Herald

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