Descending from the brooding Southern Alps, impassable Fox Glacier seems to flow steadily, ominously towards the township below. But in this fragile landscape it's the glacier that's at risk: despite hints of advance in recent years, this 12km glacier (named for former New Zealand PM Sir William Fox) has been steadily retreating over the past century.

Compared with the glacier, the eponymous township isn't nearly so dramatic. Surrounded by farmland, its cafes and tour operators are strung along the main road, along with dozens of motels catering to visiting crowds that descend between November and March. Most are here to helihike or embark on scenic flights, but flying weather is never guaranteed on the turbulent West Coast. Fortunately Fox Glacier has tramping trails, skydiving and remnants of pioneers past to keep you busy while waiting for skies to clear.