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.
West Coast - Franz Josef Glacier - Credit- Wayne Johnson
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?
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
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.
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
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 ] - 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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