Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, are a major tourist attraction. They also form a part of the stunning and quite primordial landscape that is the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. It’s the kind of landscape that makes humanity seem quite insignificant. Until, that is, you see pictures of the glaciers that are only a few years old or read signs pointing to the location of the glaciers in centuries past. Then you realise that humanity isn’t really insignificant in this otherworldly landscape. You come away feeling strongly glad that you decided to see this place when you did and didn’t delay it any longer, but also kicking yourself that you didn’t come sooner.
Hiking through the valleys towards the glaciers, as well as hiking on the glaciers themselves, really feels like wandering around another planet at times. Guided hikes on Franz Josef are now only accessible by helicopter due to the fragility of the glacier’s face, but that in itself is a spectacular thing to do. Fox Glacier is quite difference, and initially more striking in appearance due to the strong blue and grey ice walls of the face which are accessible to the eye just by walking to the viewpoint. However, there’s nothing like being on the glacier, squeezing between the smooth and narrow ice walls of a crevasse and feeling the slippery, cool, hard ice pushing back against you as you slide past.
A rainbow over the Franz Josef Glacier valley, with blue sky and snowy peaks above and small waterfalls tumbling down the high cliffs. Only a few years earlier you could clearly see the glacier creeping into the valley from this lookout, now it’s barely visible.
A small stream over striped grey rocks through the Franz Josef Glacier valley, with a small waterfall dropping from the high cliffs; Striped pink and grey rocks with green moss on the floor of the Franz Josef glacier valley.
Narrow waterfalls falls from the high cliffs carved out by the Franz Josef Glacier, a dusting of snow on the mountain peak behind.
Milky ice blue water from the Waiho River which flows from Franz Josef Glacier and over the grey rocks of the glacier valley.
Franz Josef Glacier as viewed from a helicopter, a portion of it is covered in grey dirt making it look smaller than it is.
The rocky valley below Franz Josef Glacier, with the milky ice blue glacial Waiho River flowing through; Low down the face of Franz Josef Glacier has the appearance of grey melted snow, but icy blue can be seen in the higher icefall above.
A guided group just delivered to the lower flat section of Franz Josef Glacier by helicopter, with high rocky cliffs above and some ice visible beneath the rocks and grey dirt; Tall ice walls of the Franz Josef Glacier, coloured blue in the crevasses, with even higher cliffs carved out by the glacier above.
Curved wall of ice and snow on lower down on Franz Josef Glacier, with a very high grey rock cliff; Looking along a crevasses on Franz Josef Glacier, the smooth ice walls glowing bright blue.
A narrow foot trail between the grey and blue ice walls of Franz Josef Glacier.
A close up of the smooth blue and white ice walls of Franz Josef Glacier; A man in a guided glacier hiking group touches the ice wall as the rest of the group climb down behind him into the crevasse.
A glacier guide with ice pick in hand shows the way between the ice walls of Franz Josef Glacier.
A textured but smooth wall of blue ice forms a tunnel on Franz Josef Glacier.
The helicopter descends between high cliffs to land on the flat lower section of Franz Josef Glacier, picking up hiking groups at the end of the day.
The bus taking people on guided hikes on Fox Glacier crosses the bridge over the Waiho River, with snowy mountains behind and Franz Josef Glacier lying hidden in the valley to the left.
Red and grey striped rocks with green moss on them are all over the Fox Glacier valley floor, with the snowy mountain that is home to Fox Glacier behind; Looking across rocks to the vast Fox Glacier, a small guided group on top are dwarfed by the scale of the ice.
The steep trail through the rocky terrain to the Fox Glacier viewpoint with a steady stream of people.
A small stream over grey rocks in the valley, with Fox Glacier and the snowy mountains behind; Walls and crevasses of blue ice at the terminus of Fox Glacier crumble to the ground, unfortunately not in front of our eyes.
Water from a small stream in the Fox Glacier valley flows over striped grey rocks.
The ice on Fox Glacier is bright blue in the crevasses, but has a layer of grey dirt and rock on top in parts; A small stream flows over grey and pink rock into the Fox Glacier valley, with high cliffs carved out by the glacier.
Grey rocks in all sorts of sizes cover the Fox Glacier valley, making it look like another planet.
A small guided hiking group of 5 people looks tiny and vulnerable against a backdrop of Fox Glacier; Fox Glacier covered in grey dirt at the terminus, with the milky ice blue water of Fox River the outflow.
Looking at the snowy mountains that house Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers late in the day as a mist rolls in over the mountain tops, from the temperate rainforest the forms the landscape at the base of both the mountains and the glaciers.
All images and text ©Jess Gibbs 2013