At a latitude of only forty-four degrees south and in a relatively mild climate, no other glaciers in the world are as easily accessible as Fox and Franz Josef.
They cut through dramatic glacial valleys to flow into temperate rainforest. While many glaciers world-wide have been retreating, these glaciers still flow almost to sea level, making them unique relics of the last Ice Age.
South-Westland lies in the path of a band of wind known as the 'roaring forties'. 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 approximately 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 valleys of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
This flows under its own momentum, forming these 'rivers of ice' which are easily accessible from the Waiho (Franz Josef) and Cook (Fox) river beds.
The glaciers flow over large bedrock steps on the valley floors. This causes the ice to extend and break up, forming steep icefalls that are mazes of crevasses and pinnacles of ice.
Spectacular views of this dramatic landscape are gained from short valley walks to the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier terminal faces, or by taking a guided walk on to the ice.
Either option or glacier will provide any visitor with unique glacier experience.
Fraz Josef Glacier
Julius von Haast, geologist and explorer, named Franz Josef Glacier in 1863, after the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Approximately 7000 years old, and a remnant of a much older and larger glacier which originally swept right to the sea, Franz Josef Glacier extends 12 kilometres from its three feeder glaciers in the high snow fields of the Alps.
Today the terminal face is a mere 19 kilometres from the sea and just 5 kilometres from the township.
Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier falls 2600 metres on its 13 kilometre journey towards the coast.
Named after an early New Zealand Prime Minister, William Fox, the glacier is 300 metres deep and its terminal face is just 5 kilometres from the township.
The road to the glacier crosses ancient moraine from earlier advances and retreats.
Excursions: The terminal face of both glaceirs can be reached on foot. Alternatively there are helicopter rides to the top of each of the glaciers.