Learn whether you're allowed to go on Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier by yourself and how to keep yourself safe when visiting the West Coast glaciers.
I've seen this question asked several times over the past few months, so I decided to contact the Department of Conservation and ask them what the rules are for glacier walks on Franz Josef and Fox Glacier on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
You are allowed to go alone, but you must not go past the barriers. This sort of activity comes with the following warning:
Unless you have the correct equipment and ice climbing experience, for your own and others safety, you should not consider climbing on the glacier.
If you wish to walk on the glacier it is strongly advised that you go with a guided walk company.
Update (May 13, 2012): Because many people have lost their lives in recent years while visiting the glaciers, the rules for viewing the glaciers have changed. You can read more about visiting the Glaciers on the Department of Conservation web site.
Thinking about your own safety is very important especially when visiting Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier, because the glacier region is a very dangerous region.
People have lost their lives (crushed by tumbling ice or swept away and drowned in water) because they ignored warning signs that were placed by the Department of Conservation.
In addition, the West Coast has notoriously wild weather (especially a high rainfall, which is why it's so gorgeously green), so it is very important that you know what kind of weather is expected for the day or hours that you'll be visiting the glaciers.
Guided Fox Glacier walk, West Coast, New Zealand
So are you or are you not allowed to go on the Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier by yourself? The answer to this question is: Yes, you are allowed, but...
You have to have appropriate mountaineering equipment and experience before you even consider going on either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. If you want to climb either glacier it is absolutely necessary that you carry crampons, ice axes, ropes, helmets, and any other attire and tools that are required for ice climbing and mountaineering.
And for safety reasons, it is NOT recommended that you go climbing, walking, or hiking on the glaciers by yourself but that you go with other people.
If you do not have the appropriate safety equipment or experience, then you must stay behind the safety barriers to view the glaciers.
Rangers of the Department of Conservation assess the dangers in the valleys every morning and then decide where to place the barriers based on the conditions for the day. So those barriers are there for a reason, that is, to keep you safe and alive.
If you're anything like me having zero mountaineering experience and valuing your life, you are strongly advised to join a group that is led by glacier guides like I did when I first visited New Zealand by myself back in 2001 and joined a Fox Glacier guides' walk up Fox Glacier.
Fox Glacier debris and ice, West Coast, New Zealand
Glacier guides have been trained not only to keep themselves safe, but also to keep their glacier walk group safe. A good example is when I lost my ice stick in an ice crevasse. As soon as the guide noticed that I lost the stick, she shouted not to go after it. She said: "Let it go!"
So if you are not confident to climb or do not have the appropriate equipment, but would like to hike on the glaciers, then join a full day, half day, or ice climbing trip offered by the glacier guides at Fox Glacier or glacier guides at Franz Josef Glacier.
For more information on making your visit to either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier safe, watch the Perils of the Glacier video.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
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