Franz Josef Glacier is a 10 minute drive from the village. The foot of the glacier itself is about an hours walk from the car park. Be wary; glaciers can be very dangerous, please don't try and climb them without an experienced guide and adequate equipment.
There are a number of guided trips available including helicopter options. The weather can often be adverse and heli hikes can be regularly cancelled. Just be wary in the summer months when alternative trips can book out. A full day glacier walk is one of the most unique and best value for money experiences you will encounter on your NZ adventure. There are also half day, and awesome Heli-hikes available as well as scenic flights of the glaciers, Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. If you have time up your sleeve a full day glacier walk is a mind blowing experience. Located further up the glaciers are a labyrinth of crevasses and ice caves, they are inaccessible unless on a full day guided walk or heli-hike. The views from the glacier to the ocean, only several kilometres away, provide a sensational spectacle of the path that it has carved over tens of thousand's of years. There are also a number of free walks to the peak's on either side of the glacier, that's if you are feeling really energetic!
Half an hour down the road is the slightly smaller and laid back settlement of Fox Glacier. Although half an hour walk closer to the car park than Franz Josef, Fox glacier receives around just half the 370,000 visitors that frequent its neighbour each year. If you like a few less people in your photo then perhaps Fox Glacier is the place for you.
There are quite a number of free walks around Fox Glacier. There's a DOC office on the main road if you'd like more information. If you want to get up close and personal with the glacier, Alpine guides offer a range of trips: the half day walk is a delightful eco-tour featuring the transition from rainforest to an incredible world of ice accessed by a "secret" track. The full day hike is an adventurous day exploring fascinating ice features, for people who are reasonably fit and agile. They also offer heli hikes, ice climbing instruction, over night heli hikes as well as mountaineering courses and ski touring.
A short trip from Fox glacier is Lake Matheson, the world famous mirror lake. Lake Matheson is only a few kilometres from Fox town ship. It is perhaps one of New Zealand's most striking images. The tannin stained waters provide a photo perfect reflection of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Reflections can be so perfect it's hard to tell which is really the right way up. It's worth getting up early to get the view before the wind picks up and the clouds begin to make their way off the valley floor and spoil the reflection.
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Franz Josef glacier was named after the emperor of Austria by Julius Haast in 1860. The glacier moves up and down the valley depending on how much snow drops in the neve at the top of glacier. The neve on Franz Josef is 300m deep, It takes around 5 years for the snow to get from the neve to the face.
Glaciers are formed when high volumes of snow compact near the top of a mountain, this is called a neve. The snow compacts itself under it's own weight turning it into hardened blue ice. A bed of water and ground rock forms under the glacier acting like a lubricant, allowing the giant hulk to slide it's way down the valley. The more snow the glacier receives the more it is likely to move the following summer.
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