Fox Glacier Early history

In 1865 miners returning from the Bruce Bay gold rush hoax found gold in the sands of Gillespies Beach (21 kms west of the current Fox Glacier township). Within weeks a settlement of 650 men and 11 stores had been established, however when the best of the surface gold was taken, the miners moved further north and in 1869 the population dropped to 30, but soared again in 1872 reaching 120.

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The Weheka School opened in early 1929 and the hostel (the current Fox Glacier Hotel) was completed. Weheka (the former name for the Fox Glacier township) was now becoming a focal point for drawing visitors to the area, and with the road being widened for motorized traffic, the settlement of Weheka was beginning to be blossom as a tourist resort. This had a big effect on the community. Guided trips became almost a daily feature.Predominantly Irishmen, the settlement faced many difficulties just to survive. In 1891 the first gold dredge was assembled at Gillespies, and a few rustic pipes can still be found by visitors to the area today. In the 1890’s land began to be cleared in the Cook River valley for farming and people began to move inland. Homesteads spread out across the river valleys of the Cook, the Karangarua and the Mahitahi.

Guided excursions to the glacier were able to be made in a half day with the opening of the 2 roads up the northern and southern sides of the valley in the early 1930s and early 1940s.

On 1 September 1944 the name of the township was changed from Weheka to Fox Glacier.

Accommodation increased and a service station, souvenir shop and in 1956 a store and tearooms, were built to cater for tourists.

In 1960 the Westland National Park was established and in 1965 the Haast Pass opened which lead to large tour buses overnighting in Fox Glacier. The ministry of works set up a depot in the township in 1969 and road gangs sealed almost all the roads north and south.

In 1975 Alpine Guides (Westland) Ltd was formed and took over the guiding services from the Fox Hotel.

The township, glacier and its surrounds continue to grow and develop in order to cater for the ever growing tourism market, changing climate and infrastructure demands.