Fed by four alpine glaciers, Fox Glacier falls 2600 metres on its 13 kilometre journey towards the coast. Named after an early New Zealand Prime Minister, William Fox, the glacier is 300 metres deep and its terminal face is just 5 kilometres from the township. The road to the glacier crosses ancient moraine from earlier advances and retreats.
The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers cut through dramatic glacial valleys to flow into temperate rainforest. While many glaciers world-wide have been retreating, these glaciers still flow almost to sea level, making them unique relics of the last Ice Age.
South-Westland lies in the path of a band of wind known as the ‚roaring forties‘. The weather that flows on to the West Coast is forced to rise over the Southern Alps, thereby cooling and dropping most of its moisture as rain and snow. This process causes approximately 30 metres of snow to fall on the neve, or catchment area of the glacier every year. Snow that is compacted on the neve forms blue glacier ice that is funnelled down the valleys of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. This flows under its own momentum, forming these ‚rivers of ice‘ which are easily accessible from the Waiho (Franz Josef) and Cook (Fox) river beds.
Although much melt occurs from the surface of the glaciers at lower elevations (the ablation zone), this high snowfall continues to push ice down the valleys at very high rates. This is aided by basal sliding, caused by a layer of water beneath the glaciers, formed by the weight of the ice pushing against the valley floor. Both of these factors cause the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers to have flow rates that are up to 10 times faster than most valley glaciers.
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. Spectacular views of this dramatic landscape are gained from short valley walks to the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier terminal faces, or by taking a guided walk on to the ice. Either option will provide any visitor with a unique glacier experience
|The Fox is the largest of the mighty West Coast glaciers.|
|It is unique in that it ends in temperate rainforest, 250 metres above sea Level.|
|There are more 3,000 metres (10,000 foot) peaks at the head of the Fox Glacier than in any other valley in New Zealand.|
|The Fox Glacier, like all glaciers, advances and retreats. The last advance continued from 1986-1999.|
|Access onto the lower parts of the glacier is via a secret track that climbs through regenerating forest (forest previously wiped out by earlier glacial advances). From the track, you have wonderful views into the upper parts of the glacier.|
|The high peaks, snowfields and glaciers of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) are of great significance to Maori who named the glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe. This name derived from a tupuna (ancestor) Tu Awe who fell to his death while exploring the area. The bed of Te Moeka o Tuawe became his moeka (final resting place). It is said that when his lover Hine Hukatere wept, the bed of the glaciers filled with her everlasting tears of ice.|