Traveling up the West Coast of the South Island we did hikes to the Ice faces of two of the biggest glaciers in New Zealand Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier. I’d never seen glaciers except on TV before and the experience was well worth the trip out. The two glaciers are only about 23 km apart and there is precious little else out there. It’s about 120 km north or south before your reach the next village or gas station – in fact the road to them was only completed in the ‘70’s. Since then there’s been a rush of tourists (like us) and two little kind of high-end towns have grown up around the two.
Franz Josef is the smaller of the two we saw, but easily the most touristy. Several tour companies offer to take folks up on the ice – in the hour and a half we were there we saw maybe 5 tours starting. I have to say, maybe it was because we went there first, maybe it was because the footpath to the ice face was washed out and we had to climb over rocks and through streams (and through roped off areas that had warning signs posted not to go any further) but Franz was more fun to get to and had some more dramatic views.
Fox Glacier is the larger glacier, but it’s much less commercial than Franz Josef and a lot easier to get to. There’s only one tour company permitted to operate on Fox and the effects of that are really apparent both in the park and the village below it, it’s a lot less congested and there are a lot fewer people in both. It’s much more relaxing, and there’s a walking path that puts you about 40 meters from the face of it, so it’s very easy to get some great views.
The glaciers were definitely a highlight of the trip for me and I’d make the drive out there again in a heartbeat.