Mt. Fox is a small, tussock covered peak on the South Island’s West Coast, located just outside of the tourist center of Fox Glacier. The peak is reached via a rough, poorly maintained trail that climbs relentlessly up through a diverse forest before reaching the open tops. Beyond Mt. Fox, it is possible to continue along a broad ridge towards Craig Peak, a lookout peak directly below the two highest peaks in the Southern Alps, Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. The route information on this page also contains information on Craig Peak.
A climb of Mt. Fox is a great introduction to West Coast tramping, though it is significantly harder than other more popular South Island day trips such as Avalanche Peak or the Mueller Hut. The views from the top (if you get any) are certainly worth the effort. An overnight trip might be worth the extra pack weight, as the West Coast cloud cover generally lifts in the late evening, allowing fine views for the next morning.
At the trailhead a sign warns that “this trail has limited track formation and steep grades. It is suitable for fit, experienced, and properly equipped people.” Do not disregard this warning – the route up Mt. Fox requires routefinding skills, steep scrambling over wet rock and slippery roots, and two other menaces to the West Coast tramper: sandflies and an abundance of mud. Be fit and well prepared!
Travel to Highway 6 and the West Coast, usually via Arthur’s Pass from the North or via Wanaka from the South. From the Fox Glacier Township, follow Highway 6 for three kilometers south to a small bridge spanning Thirsty Creek (referred to as Stony Creek on the topo map). There is a small pullout here for parking on the west side of the road, with a DOC trailhead signpost across the road.
No permits are needed, however it is a good idea to sign your intentions at the Department of Conservation (DOC) office in Franz Josef.
There are numerous spots suitable for a campsite both along the ridge below Mt. Fox, and within the first kilometer on the ridge between Mt. Fox and Craig Peak. Several small alpine tarns provide a water source (tread carefully - these are the habitat of an alpine frog) after the spring snow melts off. Treating or boiling your water is always a good idea, though New Zeland water is generally safe to drink as long as you are well above any livestock areas. Finding a campsite below treeline on the trail is unlikely.
Serviced campsites and a number of hostels are available in the Fox Glacier township.
West Coast Weather
Mt. Tasman rising above the mist, from the ridge above Mt. Fox.
The greatest obstacle to an enjoyable West Coast tramp is the weather. Storms rage across the Tasman Sea and pile up against the Main Divide peaks, and rainclouds may become entrenched for days on end. In the summer and fall, a pattern generally develops in which morning sunlight hits the moist ground, creating mist which quickly engulfs the lower valleys. As the day goes on, the cloud level rises to engulf the lower peaks. As temperatures drop in the evening, the clouds lift and fine weather returns overnight.
This pattern generally means that views of the peaks are obscured throughout the middle of the day, much to the dismay of West Coast dayhikers. To better your chances of seeing the fantastic views, consider bringing a tent to camp on the ridge overnight. This makes travel through the tangled vines in the forest much more difficult, but the reward is worth the effort!