Glaciers are glorious things. They’re like the world’s slowest rivers; huge bodies of dense ice formed by snow built up over centuries, inching forward incessantly under their own enormous weight. They’re spectacles of nature, found on every continent in the world – except, sadly, ours. While glaciers are common place in freezing cold places like Antarctica or in mountainous highlands like those found in Patagonia, Australia’s flat land comprised mostly of desert just doesn’t provide the conditions for glaciers to exist. To experience the glory of a glacier, we must travel. Thankfully, though, not far.
Welcome to Glacier Country, on the South Island of New Zealand.
In the heart of Glacier Country, found on NZ’s west coast, you’ll find the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. These huge sheets of ice are some of the most accessible in the world and they plunge down through verdant rainforests, eventually melting into the open sea.
The Franz Josef glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, who was the first European to log a description of the west coast glaciers. The Māori name for the glacier is Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, which means ‘the tears of Hine Hukatere’, which was taken from local legend.[related_articles]22628[/related_articles]
The ice sheet is about 12 kilometres in length, and finishes just short of the Tasman Sea (about 19 kilometres from shore).
Visiting the glacier is a breeze, with guided tours offering the best bet to get the most out of your trek. Glacier walks are the hot-ticket item, where explorers can use ice axes and crampons to traverse down the mountain, no previous ice-walking experience needed. As Franz drops steeply from the Southern Alps towards sea-level, it forms intricate peaks and crevices across the blue glacial ice. It’s a sight to behold. If you’re up for a short helicopter trip, you’ll even get the opportunity to explore ice caves formed by the glacier.
Hikers can wrap up the day with a dip in the Glacier Hot Pools located right in the heart of the rainforest below.
The Franz Josef glacier is located about five hours drive from Christchurch. Very (n)ice.
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