The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
Franz Josef Glacier © brenrub
Nowhere else in the world, outside the polar regions, can one see glaciers so close to the sea, extending more than eight miles (13km) from the highest peaks of precipitous mountains to the valley floor and surrounded by rainforest. The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are the two most famous glaciers, a small part of the Westland National Park, and the two small townships near to each are good bases from which to explore the area, although offering an expensive range of accommodation and cafes. They each have a good Visitors Centre with displays on the formation of the glaciers, the ice movement and the history of the region. The giant screen at Franz Josef shows the brilliant film on Glacier Country, 'Flowing West'. The glaciers are moving at an average rate of three feet (1m) a day, but the Frans Josef can move up to an incredible 16 feet (5m) in one day. A wide range of companies offer guided trips to explore the spectacular ice formations, taking visitors beyond the looming terminal face of the glacier and up onto the mighty rivers of ice, through the carved passageways and channels. There are scenic flights among New Zealand's highest peaks and over the glaciers with snow landings, a great way to appreciate the magnitude and splendour of the area and guided heli-hike excursions, a chance to combine a flight with ice walking.