An ice experience: Franz Josef Glacier

Tuesday 4th November – Wednesday 5th November
Greymouth to Franz Josef, South Island, New Zealand

For many years I’ve wanted to see a glacier in ‘real life’, and being so close to Franz Josef and its glacier was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Unfortunately there were no trains available, so we hired a car to head a couple of hours down the west coast.

The journey took us through the lovely town of Hokitika, plus a few stop offs to admire some truly phenomenal views. This photo was taken at Lake Ianthe.


We stayed for a couple of nights in Franz Josef so we had plenty of time on Wednesday to enjoy the area. We did a couple of walks – the first took us to within about 250 metres of the Franz Josef Glacier, through the glacial valley.



There are 140 glaciers in total in Westland/Tai Poutini National Park, though Franz Josef and nearby Fox are by far the largest. Above them are mountain peaks over 3,000 metres high, including New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (3,754m). The views were incredible – look out for the people towards the bottom right of the photo below, to get a sense of the scale!


The second walk gave us the opportunity to explore the incredible temperate rainforest surrounding the glacier. Heavy rain/snowfall are a feature of the area – at the coast they get 3.2 metres of precipitation a year, rising to 12 metres on the slopes (hence both the glacier and the rainforest!).


The walk took us past Peter’s Pool, a kettle lake formed by a huge block of ice left behind during the glacier’s withdrawal. When the ice melted it was contained in a depression, called a kettle hole, among the mounds of rock debris deposited by the receding glacier.


It also took us to Douglas Bridge, which gave me an excellent opportunity to pretend I was in an Indiana Jones movie!



After our walks we decided to rest our aching legs in the Glacier Hot Pools, close to where we were staying. The pools use glacial water and are in the open air, surrounded by rainforest. I’m also pleased to confirm that they were nicely heated so they were a lot warmer than the glacial water flowing close to the Franz Josef Glacier. A fantastic (and very relaxing) experience!

Fact of the Day
In 1943, a small plane crashed about 4km up the Franz Josef Glacier. Six years later, parts of the wreckage began to appear at the glacier front, giving an indication of the speed at which the ice moves (sometimes up to four metres a day, which is unusually fast for alpine glaciers).


3 responses to “An ice experience: Franz Josef Glacier

  1. Did Joanna walk across that bridge?

    Rainforest and glacier together? That hurts my brain!


  2. Wow, amazing. I would love to see that….


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