Fox Glacier to Greymouth

New Zealand

After a day of cycling in the rain, Carrie and I spent DAY 62 in Fox Glacier seeing the sights and taking it easy. We visited Lake Matheson, the most photographed lake in New Zealand, and visited the terminal face of the great Fox Glacier, which was a sight to behold. The huge river of ice ends abruptly with 90-foot cliffs of unstable frozen water. Although there are safety ropes in place well away from the terminal face, stupid tourists occasionally decide to walk right up to the ice for a feel only to get crushed by falling chunks.

On DAY 63 we took a bus about 15km south of town to spend two days walking the Copland Track, New Zealand’s worst kept secret. Since learning of the Copland from fellow hikers on the Rees-Dart we’d been counting down the days until we were on the trail. The Copland is an in-and-out hike for most trampers because the trail leads up to the dangerous Copland Pass, which is suitable only for true mountaineers. What draws Kiwis and tourists alike to the Copland is a serene area of natural hot springs near the aptly-named Welcome Flat Hut.

The 17km walk out to the hut meandered through thick forest and occasional soggy meadows, a typical west coast landscape. When we arrived at the hut we were hungry but eager to get soaking. After a quick dinner we headed straight to the hot springs. All I can say is I wish at the end of every day I could soak my weary body in this water. As the sunlight set on the surrounding snow-capped peaks, we melted our aches away. Carrie and I had found heaven on earth.

We reluctantly left Welcome Flat Hut and its hot springs the next morning (DAY 64) only because we didn’t pack enough food to stay another day. But we weren’t too sad because we were also eager to go walking on a glacier. While prodding hikers at the hut the night before, many people had good experiences walking on the less popular and less expensive Fox Glacier, so we decided we’d give the Fox a shot the next day.

The Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers are amazing for many reasons. Both glaciers terminate at unusually low altitudes because they move so quickly. Some parts of the Fox move downhill at an average of four meters a day. That’s some serious speed for a giant river of ice. The only other place in the world with glaciers this accessible is in Patagonia. It’s also impressive to see these ice blocks surrounded by lush New Zealand rainforest.

Carrie and I signed up to spend a full day on DAY 65 to take a guided walk on Fox. Our guide Steve led the way using his giant ice pick to carve small steps in the ice for our cramponed boots to navigate. When the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds our group of 12 all agreed that it was a great day to spend walking on frozen water. Since the ice moves so much and so frequently the guides are continually finding interesting formations to show us tourists. Steve and another guide helped us shimmy through two deep and narrow crevasses, the walls of which were polished smooth and had rich cyan hues. It was incredible to be so close to so much ice.

After four days at Fox Glacier township, Carrie and I were ready to move on. On DAY 66 we stopped at an old gold mining town called Whataroa. From Whataroa we spent almost all of DAY 67 cycling 118km to Hokitika thanks to a friendly tailwind and few hills. The ride seemed easy but the next morning we awoke sore and tired. We ate breakfast with another cycling couple from San Francisco and then limped along on DAY 68 to Greymouth, the west coast’s largest town.