After a full day traveling down New Zealand’s west coat from Westport, my Kiwi Experience coach arrived in the little town of Franz Josef, where I stayed at the Rainforest Retreat. Built primarily around tourism, this town is located 5km from the terminal face of the Franz Josef glacier and 25km from Fox Glacier – in the heart of South Westland on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
These glaciers are unique and probably the most accessible glaciers in the world, as they terminate amongst temperate rainforest just 250m above sea level. So special is this mountain environment, that it forms part of the South Westland World Heritage Area.
The unique combination of climate and shape means that Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers move at approximately 10 times the speed of other valley glaciers around the world. At Fox Glacier this is due to the funnel-like shape of the glacial valley and the huge nevé (the snow accumulation area at the top of the glacier). Fox Glacier’s nevé is 36 square kms, bigger than the whole of Christchurch City! Fox Glacier is the longest of New Zealand’s West Coast Glaciers at 13km long! I had the option of doing a heli-hike or an all-day glacier walk. I went for the more energetic and cheaper option.
We were driven up the valley, from where we walked 30minutes to the terminal face. From there, led by our guide, we put on our crampons and began climbing the steep frozen world! The highlight for me was exploring the majestic ice pinnacles about 1km up from the terminal face. It was also fascinating to see the steep rock walls of the valley, which the glacier had carved out.
Here are a few of my favourite photos: