Things to know about Fox Glacier & Franz Josef Glacier

What should you know about New Zealand’s Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers?

The glacier country is a special area in the west coast region of New Zealand’s South Island. There’s just so much for you to see here. The most accessible rivers of ice in the world are here. These run from the rainforests to almost sea level.  But in addition, it is also home to the Fox Glacier and the the Franz Josef glacier. These are popular places to visit for many tourists. The Fox Glacier and Franz Josef glacier are also part of many We Tour New Zealand tours.

The glaciers are located between New Zealand’s highest mountains and the sea. Warm air from Australia brings snow to the Southern Alps with prevailing winds pushing moist air up to turn into snow. Gravity compacts this snow into ice. The steepness of the valleys pushes the ice further down. And this is how the glaciers here are formed.

Both glaciers share the same name as the nearby village. Indeed, the terminal faces are only about 5 kilometres from the villages. It is also true that snow hardly falls in these little towns at the foot of the Southern Alps. Most winters the snow falls only in the mountains that tower over them. The contrast of cooler mountain altitudes and warmer temperatures as these great ice rivers descend to the near sea-level town and the resultant thaw and freeze cycle provides very good conditions for ice production.

Franz Josef Glacier Valley

The We Tour New Zealand tours visit either the Franz Josef Glacier or the Fox Glacier. But in most cases, there are optional on-glacier activities, which you can book like a helicopter flight. In this way, you can see both glaciers in all their glory.

Not sure yet which one you would rather visit? Keep reading!

Franz Josef Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier is the fastest-moving and steepest glacier in New Zealand. It has an average speed of 50 centimetres to 4 meters a day. No wonder they say every day is different here!

The story of this glacier

The Māori story of Franz Josef Glacier is an interesting one. It’s about a fearless girl named Hinehukatere who loved climbing in the mountains. One day, she went climbing with her less experienced lover. But a disaster happened. After an avalanche, her lover Wawe fell down the mountain and died.

She was heartbroken and cried a lot. Her tears flowed down the mountainside and the gods froze her tears when forming the glacier as a reminder of her grief. That’s where the Māori name ‘Kā Roimata o Hinehukatere’ which means ‘the frozen tears of Hinehukatere.

The European name comes from Julius von Haast. He decided to give the glacier the name ‘Franz Josef’ after the emperor of Austria, Franz Josef I, visited the local village.

How to explore?

Maybe the easiest way to see the Glacier is by doing the Hukatere walk. It’s a 1.7 kilometre return walk via the same track and takes around 30 minutes to complete. Along the way, you will walk through the rainforest, and see some mountain tops, waterfalls and even the top of the glacier! If you’re into a longer walk, you can walk to the car park, which is an additional 9 kilometres for the return.

Another short walk is the Peters Pools Walk. In 25 minutes, you will walk to Peters Pool and return to the car park. On a clear day, you can see the reflective views of the glacier and the surrounding mountains from here.

The only way to touch the glacier and see it up close is through a glacier hike or climb. In both cases, you fly by helicopter to a point on the glacier where you either spend 2.5 hours on the glacier itself or if you are climbing for around 6 hours. It is an experience for life!

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

The Fox Glacier is half an hour’s drive from the Franz Josef Glacier. It’s located next to the Cook River which flows all the way to Mount Cook National Park. You need to be aware that as a visitor you are not allowed to go beyond the safety perimeter at all times. This perimeter is there to keep everyone safe and prevent accidents.

The story of this glacier

The history of the Fox Glacier (Te Moeka o Tuawe in Māori) goes back to the story of Hinehukatere. Fox Glacier was the final resting place of her lover Wawe. Julius von Haast also visited this place in 1865 and named it Fox Glacier. This is named after William Fox, the New Zealand Prime Minister. About 14,000 years ago, the glacier even came to the coastline and ended up in the sea. As the years progressed, the ice melted more and more. As a result, what used to be just ice is now Lake Matheson.

Hiking on Fox Glacier

How to explore?

This glacier can be discovered in different ways. One is by doing the River Walk Lookout. This is a 20-minute return walk. It gives you amazing views of the glacier along the way and takes you past the Fox River Bridge, which was built in 1929.

For those who have a little more time, there is the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway. In a 2-hour return walk, you will walk through the glacier valley, the rainforest and end at the viewpoint of the Fox Glacier. Your return will be on the same route, but the views make it worth it to walk here on your way back as well.

It is also possible, for anyone 9 years or older, to do a helicopter hike or climb on the Fox Glacier. (Note: Some other tours have different age restrictions.) With these tours you have 2 scenic flights, and you will encounter spectacular ice caves, arches and tunnels along the way that have a beautiful blue colour.

Are you ready to go?

The two glaciers mentioned above are, special places. The nearby towns with the same are also good places for activities and even on the glaciers, there are more options than we have mentioned. More tips and helpful information can be found on the Glacier Country website, the website of New Zealand Tourism for both Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier and the website of the West Coast.

We can also help you to find the right We Tour New Zealand that takes you to this special place. Contact us for personalised advice and we will help you out!