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Franz Josef Glacier         Fox Glacier

The spectacular Franz Josef Glacier descends to just 250 metres above sea level amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.

Of all the accessible temperate glaciers in New Zealand, the Franz Josef Glacier is easily the steepest and fastest moving.

Franz Josef Glacier
West Coast - Franz Josef Glacier - Credit- Wayne Johnson

While many glaciers world-wide have been retreating, the Franz Josef Glacier still flows almost to sea level, through a temperate rainforest of ancient podocarp trees and other evergreen species.

This combination of ice and temperate rainforest is a unique feature of New Zealand's glacier country, and is an ecosystem found nowhere else in the world.

South Westland is situated at 43.5 degrees south, an equivalent latitude to the south of France. Cannes, for example, is the same distance from the coast as Franz Josef, with mountains of similar altitudes. Obviously there are no glaciers that extend down to sea level in France, so why does it happen here?

Running through Franz Josef is the Alpine Fault. Along this faultline the Southern Alps have been pushed up, and continue to rise in close proximity to the ocean. The weather that flows on to the West Coast is forced to rise over the Southern Alps, thereby cooling and dropping most of its moisture as rain and snow. This process causes up to 30 metres of snow to fall on the neve (or catchment area of the glacier), every year.

Snow that is compacted on the neve forms blue glacier ice that is funnelled down the Waiho Valley. The ice flows under its own momentum, forming a 'river of ice'. Although the terminal face of the glacier is continually melting, this is replaced by glacier ice flowing down from the neve. This is aided by basal sliding, caused by a layer of water beneath the glacier which is formed by the weight of the ice pushing against the valley floor.

The glacier slides forward at rates up to 10 times faster than most valley glaciers, presenting the visitor with a spectacular and unique icefall of crevasses, pinnacles, ice caves and canyons.

Fox Glacier          Franz Josef Glacier

  • The mighty Fox is the largest and longest of the magnificent West Coast glaciers.
  • It is remarkable in that it ends in temperate rainforest, 250 metres above sea level and a mere twelve kilometres from the sea.
  • There are more 3,000m (10,000ft) peaks at the head of the Fox Glacier than in any other valley in New Zealand.
  • The Fox Glacier, like all glaciers, advances and retreats. The last advance continued from 1986-1999. It will be intriguing to see if the heavy snowfalls of the winter of 2002 start another advance.
  • Access onto the lower parts of the glacier is via a secret track that climbs through regenerating native forest (forest previously wiped out by earlier glacial advances). From the track, you have stunning views into the upper parts of the glacier.
  • The high peaks, snowfields and glaciers of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) are of great significance to Maori who named the glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe. This name derived from a tupuna (ancestor) Tu Awe who fell to his death while exploring the area. The bed of Te Moeka o Tuawe became his moeka (final resting place). It is said that when his lover Hine Hukatere wept, the bed of the valley filled with her everlasting tears of ice.

  • Fox Glacier Township
    • Fox Glacier township is the more "laid back" of the twin Glacier Country townships of Fox and Franz Josef and people often comment on having chosen Fox for its relaxed atmosphere.
    • An excellent selection of cafés and a wide range of accommodation complement its charming country town feel.
    • The township enjoys breathtaking views of New Zealand's highest peaks Mounts Cook and Tasman.
    • At Fox Glacier - Mt Cook mirrored in Lake Matheson [ a very famous view ]
      At Fox Glacier - Mt Cook mirrored in Lake Matheson [ a very famous view ] - Credit- Peter Hunt

    • Lake Matheson, the famous reflection lake, is a five minute drive west of Fox township.
    • Historic Gillespie's Beach, a wilderness of crashing surf and distant snowcapped mountains, known for its seal colony and colourful gold mining history, is 25 minutes west by car.
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