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Update April 2012
As Franz Josef glacier is receding, it is currently not possible to hike up to the glacier via the terminal face. This means that the "normal" walks are not on offer. Instead Glacier Guides have decided to avoid the unstable terminal face altogether and access the glacier by helicopter. This does not only raise tourists to the ice but also prices through the roof. The 4 hour Ice Explorer trip costs NZ$ 265 per person now (255 for children from 8 to 16 years) - which is unaffordable for many people.
All other options (heli hike etc.) are far more expensive than that. The only affordable option is the valley walk at NZ$ 66.50 - but this is still expensive given that you do not get onto the ice. The price includes a DVD... ;-))
Prices are valid until 30 September 2013.
In the past I surely have preferred Franz Josef as my glacier hike option but as Fox Glacier is still accessible from the side after a riverside and rainforest walk I would surely recommend it for people who do not want to break the bank. The half day Foxtrot walk costs NZ$ 109 (as April 2012). And you do not have to bear the excessive helicopter noise that has degraded Franz Josef already before the addition of the helicopter shuttle walk.
If you are no expert you should only walk to the terminal face of the glacier on your own. Actually the Department of Conservation (DOC) even discourage tourists from doing this. To walk on the glacier itself you need talons, and as the tracks can change and new crevasses appear it is also good to have a guide who leads the way and cares about safety measures.
You can choose between just walking up the glacier (which, of course, is a lot cheaper) on half or full-day tours or heli-hiking - which means that you are flown onto the glacier and walk two hours in higher areas. Although it looks much closer it takes about one and half hours to walk to the terminal face.
You get all the special equipment, leather boots, woollen socks, overtrousers and raincoats from the company at no extra cost. A bus transports you to the carpark where the 90 mins walk to the terminal face starts. If you are on your own do not miss the Sentinel Rock Walk at the start. It is just a little detour up a hill (20 mins return perhaps) and offers nice views over the valley.
If you go for the guided glacier walk, the guides try to find out the fitness levels of the big group and split it up, so the fittest people get up to quite a high level of the glacier. There are some guys who do nothing but quarry stairs into the snow and ice with their axes and shovels, so even steep climbing sections are not too difficult to manage, and there are also ropes attached to the ice walls where you get hold. Be prepared to crawl through ice-tubes... Gloves are recommended because the walls can be rough, and you will note that you can get quite wet when it is warm because the ice is melting faster.
It is great to do the glacier walks in winter because normally it rains less on the Coast in this season. The walks also take place when it rains, not too many are cancelled. You do not need too many layers of clothes because you get warm when walking ;-) The guides do wear shorts even in winter.
Photo 2: Start of the walk at the terminal face.
Photo 3: A hiking group on the glacier. Guide in shorts... ;-)
Photo 4: Inside a narrow crevasse in the old blue ice.
Photo 5: Further up on the glacier.
Updated Aug 27, 2012
Address: Franz Josef
Phone: (0800) 484 337, (03) 752 0763
They are funny at Fox Glacier: To name all the things that are better than at Franz Josef the privately owned operating company compare their plus points to the "other local glacier". And those plus points are: Fox Glacier is 13kms and therefore 2kms longer than Franz Josef; it takes only half an hour to get to Fox and one hour to FJ; Fox is less steep; you see Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman only from Fox.
But the most important information for travellers is that Franz Josef has developed into a very busy place and Fox is much quieter, which means that it is less crowded, and the glacier, of course, as well, and it is cheaper to walk or heli-hike on Fox.
The options are similar to the trips that are available at Franz Josef: Simple guided walks to the terminal face (2 hrs) along the Fox River Valley, half- and full day glacier walks, heli-hikes, ice-climbing adventures and - named Browne Fox - an overnight heli-trek which includes return helicopter flights and the climb of Chancellor Dome, dinner at the Chancellor Hut, and a walk to a remote section of Fox Glacier. Ski touring is also on offer.
Like in Franz Josef leather boots, woollen socks, crampons, raincoats, overtrousers and specialist equipment for the climbing tour are provided at no extra cost.
In good conditions it is no problem to walk to the terminal face on your own from the carpark. A few years ago the access walk led up- and downhill through rainforest and little rivers. This has changed dramatically, as this glacier is very active, despite receding since 2009. (Before that the glacier had advanced very fast.) Even the carpark had to be relocated, and the walk to the closest viewpoint is rather short (as May 2010).
The walk itself offers more changing views, landscapes and vegetation than the "other local glacier"... ;-)
Former guides with knowledge of both glaciers told me that they consider Franz Josef as more strenuous and exciting, so absolutely more interesting for young people, and Fox would clearly be better for people with diminishing fitness, just elder folk, access is easier, the guides are perfectly trained - but the glacier is not as exciting as the other one. Decide for yourselves! After having walked on both glaciers I agree with what the guides said.
The main difference is that at Franz Josef you climb straight onto the glacier after the access walk through the river valley. (Update April 2012: not available anymore because the terminal face at Franz Josef has become unstable.) At Fox you have to climb 800 steep steps through the rainforest and then walk along bluffs (not so sure how people with fear of heights feel about this...) until you finally descend and access the glacier from the side. At Franz Josef you spend a lot more time on the glacier itself. On a half-day walk on Franz Josef Glacier I saw about as much of the glacier as on the full day walk on Fox Glacier.
On Fox the guides cut the steps as they walk with the groups, so you advance a lot more slowly than on Franz. I recommend to take more warm clothes than to Franz in the same weather conditions, as you stand around a lot, and especially in winter the sun reaches the lower reaches of the glacier only in the later afternoon.
Let me again remind you of the dangers of the glaciers. During my walk on Fox, for example, we heard an almighty noise several times, it sounded like explosions in a quarry. But it was generated by the collapsing cave at the terminal face. When we walked out of the valley the river and the river banks were covered in icebergs. Those icebergs were lying far outside the river. After such collapses the waterflow is blocked for a certain time, and when the pressure gets high enough to sweep the ice away a surge in the water level occurs, meaning that you should keep at a very safe distance from the river, best on higher ground.
Photo 2: An impression of the access track which goes up and downhill.
Photo 3: Fox River starts at the end of the terminal face.
Photo 4 shows a detail of the glacier.
Update April 2012
Due to the problems with the fragile terminal face at Franz Josef the half- and full-day hikes at Fox are now much cheaper than at Franz Josef. In fact, they cost less than half the price of the cheapest Franz Josef glacier adventure which includes helicopter transport onto the glacier. The current price for a half-day walk is NZ$ 109, compared to NZ$ 265 at Franz Josef. The full-day walk costs NZ$ 159.
Update 20 January 2009:
The northern access road that had been washed away by the Fox River after heavy rain at the end of November 2008, has been repaired, so access to the carpark (from where you can walk to the terminal face of the glacier) is possible again. Please stay behind the barrier ropes at the terminal face if you want to avoid a similar fate to the two Australian/Indian tourists who died after climbing over those safety barriers, being killed by tonnes of falling ice.
Update about walk on Fox on 13 May 2010.
Updated Apr 15, 2012
Address: Fox Glacier
Phone: (03) 751 0825, (0800) 111 600
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are unique in the world and, of course, unique in New Zealand. They are the only two of the still 1000 more or less large glaciers or eternal snow-patches of the Southern Alps that are not incised back to the Main Divide, but run down towards the West Coast and therefore end up in the rainforest, to an incredibly low altitude of 240 metres above sea level, and are easily accessible from the Coast. Actually, after years of receding, those two extraordinary glaciers had been growing again until 2009 when they started receding again. Once they reached to the ocean, as did all the glaciers that once shaped the fiords like Milford Sound further south.
Glaciers are a kind of huge rivers of ice. They are relics of the last Ice Age when the earth was covered with ice, with glaciers everywhere. As it has become much warmer on earth since then, most of those glaciers have melted away.
The fact that Franz Josef and Fox have been advancing until recently is due to more rainfall which - funnily - is caused by global warming and El Niño and comes down as snow at higher altitudes. The remaining winter snow which summer cannot melt away forms a nevé and becomes part of the glacier. Time and its own weight transform this residual snow into ice, and the new snowfall pushes the ice down the valleys constantly.
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. Old glacier ice is blue. This happens when snow is compacted on the nevé, meaning: it is melting and freezing constantly, and the more often this happens, the less oxygen is in the ice, and this makes it look blue.
Franz Josef is 11kms long and named after the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fox falls 2600 metres on its 13kms journey and is named after an early NZ prime minister, William Fox.
New Zealand's longest glacier is the Tasman with 29kms. It is one of the world's longest outside the polar regions and up to 3kms wide. It is home to the world's longest ski run.
P.S. (April 2012)
The length of the glaciers is not stable due to the nature of glaciers. As they are receding at the moment they are significantly shorter than 11 resp. 13 km.
Updated Apr 15, 2012
Address: Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Captain James Cook, the first European explorer to chart New Zealand, landed here and named this place after the strong, often cold wind that blows here nearly all the time. Despite this, it's still worth a visit just for the spectacular coastal scenery. The hike is about a mile and a half each way. It's best to arrange for a pickup at the car park at either end.
If you're lucky, you'll get a view of some seals basking on the rocks. I was not, but did get a close-up of a flightless bird known as a weka.
Written Apr 5, 2012
Update April 2011
This tourism venture has closed down in the meantime. I think it did not work because you could get the same activity outdoors, in much nicer and natural surroundings, and it was just far too expensive.
Instead the building now houses the West Coast Wildlife Centre. If you are lucky you can see a kiwi hatch. Ngai Tahu, the South Island's major and very wealthy Maori tribe, already owner of Glacier Guides, are behind this venture.
There is also an Alpine Adventure Centre where you can watch a glacier movie on a helimax screen.
A relatively new thing you can enjoy (hopefully...) are the Glacier Hot Pools right in the rainforest, also owned by Ngai Tahu. A nice activity for a cold or rainy day - or for warming up after a glacier walk or strenuous mountain hike.
This was the Hukawai Glacier Centre...
It only opened on 1 March 2007 (and closed down last year - 2010 - if I remember right, maybe earlier).
The Ice Climbing Wall was part of Hukawai, the Glacier Experience, which opened on 1 March 2007. Hukawai means "melt water".
It is the only indoor ice climbing wall in the Southern Hemisphere. It is 10 metres high, and the walls have 200 square metres of climbing surfaces of different difficulties, from slightly leaning to vertical. It is kept in perfect condition, with staff attaching crushed ice at regular intervals. Those people BTW are extremely nice, friendly and outgoing. I am sure you can have a lot of fun with them - and you need them, as they have to assist you with the rope while you are climbing.
I have watched the activities but not tested climbing myself, as I am not into ice-climbing. I have been told that all kinds of people have already been on the walls, from 65 year olds who had never climbed before to experienced climbers who wanted to train their skills in perfect conditions. On rainy days there are more visitors, of course. On a perfect sunny day like the day I was there (13 April 2007) not a lot of activity could be watched. I am sure most visitors are not aware yet that this Glacier Experience even exists as it is brand new.
Perhaps also the price is a deterrant as a so-called taster session of one and half hours costs NZ$ 90 (children $65). This price is valid until September 2007. Tailored courses are available on demand. I was not very impressed to read that they charge NZ$10 if they take a photo of you with YOUR own camera.
Updated Apr 14, 2011
Address: West Coast Wildlife Centre, Cowan Street, Franz J.
Phone: (0800) 4852 924, (03) 752 0600
Tip updated in April 2011
The Interpretive Exhibit was the main part of the failed Glacier Experience Hukawai ("melt water") at Franz Josef. It is now part of the West Coast Wildlife Centre, located in the same premises.
First of all I have to say that even I could learn things about nature and history of the glacier region around Franz Josef and Fox although I had already known a lot and have been there many times. But I would not consider the museum-like exhibit as really interactive as they claim. There is a lot of sights and sounds, and a lot of reading. You learn the facts and the Maori legends around them, including the Maori tale about the existence of the West Coast's infamous sandflies.
You learn about the trees of the rainforest and the animals of the region. You hear birdsong and music. In short animated films and graphics you can see how far the glaciers have retreated in the past centuries and how far they are actually advancing. You learn how glaciers function in a very detailed way.
You walk through a plastic recreation of glacier country, through white and blue ice-scapes, and one wall is a kind of reproduction of the terminal face of a glacier. It is not kitschy but matches the exhibits, the many information panels and pictures. They try to create a slightly mysterious atmosphere in rather dark rooms with spotlights over the panels.
At the start I had thought I would quickly run through the sombre looking exhibit, and that the lot of reading would be tiring. But I stayed much longer than I had expected and even took notes about interesting details. I really enjoyed it. I just wondered how smaller children take such an exhibit, as there are no buttons to push, and no surprising features appearing out of the blue. But there are surely many who will enjoy it. You should just not take kids to the exhibit who cannot be calm for at least 20 or 30 minutes, so the really interested people can take their glacier lessons.
When it was part of Hukiwai, the entry fee of NZ$ 25 was far too high for just the exhibition. Now you pay this money for an unlimited all-day pass at the Wildlife Centre. A backstage pass for the kiwi hatching part of the centre comes at NZ$ 40 and includes the all-day pass.
There is a café and bakery at the centre. 30 min free WiFi if you buy a coffee.
Updated Apr 14, 2011
Address: West Coast Wildlife Centre, Cowan St., Franz Josef
Phone: (03) 752 0600, (0800) 485 2924
There is not a real lot to do in Greymouth if you do not have a car - but enough to fill a day.
In the town itself you can stroll along the Grey River, walk up the hill on a zig-zag track for great views of town, river, and sea (King Domain Walk, 1.5 hours return).
See more walks here: http://www.greydistrict.co.nz/greymouth/walks.asp
You can tour the Montheith's Brewery which is NZ's most famous one, they have several tours daily.
They also offer a lot of outdoor adventure tours from Greymouth, including caving, kayaking, rafting, 4WD tours, mountainbiking, etc.
Something hugely interesting is studying the history of coalmining on the West Coast, as this is this region's lifeline. Many people have died mining underground, you might see a few memorials along the roads. The latest mine disaster was the Pike River Mine explosion east of Greymouth, killing 29 miners in late 2010. A historic site also east of Greymouth is the site of the old Brunner mine where you can see everything from coal waggons to a cokery. It's a ten minute drive from Greymouth.
More on the Grey District website:
There is a shuttle service to Shantytown, a replica gold town of the 1860's. This shuttle leaves at the Greymouth i-site three times daily (but a minimum of two passengers is needed). They also service the Pancake Rocks (Punakaiki) - see extra tip - but here a minimum of three people is needed.
There are some great places very close to Greymouth but you would need your own transportation to get there, especially Lake Brunner and Blackball. Lake Brunner is a truly relaxing place. In Moana you can have coffee at the old railway station (Station Café) and go on very pleasant walks in the rainforest. Blackball is famous for its salami, the café/restaurant/hotel named Formerly the Blackball Hilton, and as the place where New Zealand's Labour Party was founded (see extra tip).
If you only arrive by train but would want to drive, there are several car rental companies which would deliver their cars right to the railway station.
Read more here.
Updated Apr 14, 2011
Esta es la ciudad del Jade , en una calle como las del Oeste se pued ver a los grandes talladores de jade , las tiendas y los museos en los que se pueden ver bonitas obras de arte , desde luego también hay tiendas
Durante cientos de años Hokitika y sus alrededores, especialmente en el río Arahura, han sido importantes a escala nacional como fuente de "pounamu", también conocido como piedra verde, jade de Nueva Zelanda o nefrita , Pounamu puedeser tan duro como el acero, y tiene una belleza propia. Como era muy adecuado para hacer herramientas, armas y adornos personales, era (y sigue siendo) un "taonga" o gran tesoro.
This is the city of Jade, in a street like in the West you can see the great carvers of jade , workshops shops and museums were you may see beautiful works of art and of course there are shops to buy a souvenir
For hundreds of years Hokitika and its surrounding area, especially the Arahura River, have been nationally important as a source of pounamu , otherwise known as greenstone, NZ jade or nephrite, Pounamu can take an edge as tough as steel, and has a beauty all of its own. As it was well suited to making tools, weapons and personal ornaments, it was (and still is) a taonga or great treasure.
Written Mar 13, 2010
Llegamos por la tarde , con un tiempo espléndido y con todo despejado se podían ver las montañas
Pensábamos descansar tranquilamente por el pueblo para ir al día siguiente a ver el Glaciar , pero cuando reservamos la habitación para dormir nos dijeron que fueramos a verlo esa misma tarde pues al día siguiente nadie sabe lo que podía pasar . Efectívamente nos fuimos a verlo con una tarde espléndida y al día siguiente llovió a mares , casi hubo inundaciones , nos suspendieron el paseo por el glaciar y decidimos seguir hacia el sur par ver si mejoraba el tiempo
Al glaciar , al que se le puso su nombre en honor de Francisco José I de Austria , desciende desde los Alpes del Sur hasta trescientos metros sobre el nivel del mar a pocos quilómetros del Mar de Tasmania y rodeado de bosques tropicales llenos de vegetación y de helechos .
Los paseos y las vistas especialmente desde el "Sentinel"son impresionantes , menos mal que lo pudimos ver tranquílamente por la tarde
We arrived in the afternoon, with a splendid and all clear day where you could see the mountains
We were planning to rest quietly in the village and to go the next day to see the glacier, but when we reserved the room in the hotel they told us to go to see the Glacier in that moment because the following day nobody could know what could happen. Indeed we went to see the Glacier with a gorgeous afternoon and the next day it rained profusely, almost had flooding and we suspended the tour of the glacier and decided to go on South to see if the weather improved
The glacier, which the put his name in honour of Franz Joseph I of Austria, descends from the Southern Alps to 300 meters above sea level, a few kilometres of the Tasman Sea and surrounded by tropical forest filled with vegetation and ferns.
The walks and the views , spetially from the "Sentinel" are impressive, we were lucky as we could see it that afternoon
Updated Mar 13, 2010
El parque está junto a la carretera y hay que dar un pequeño paseo para llegar al acantilado desde donde se pueden ver los famosos "pancakes" y todas las rocas que están sobre el mar
Un paseo muy bonito y relajado
The park is next to the road and you have to take a little walk to get to the cliff where you can see the famous pancakes and all the rocks on the sea
A very nice and relaxing walk
Written Feb 10, 2010
The Westhaven Fox Glacier
1 Review and 130 Opinions The staff was very friendly and helpful! The rooms were big, comfortable, and clean with a good...