" New Zealand Holiday ... 7 . . . Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers "

Date & Time: Saturday 5th - Sun 6th November 2011.

Locations : Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand.

Places visited : Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, Lake Matheson and the Kiwi reserve.

Accommodation : With Raelene Tuck at Reflection Lodge, Fox Glacier.

With : Ann and myself.

Weather : Good in the mornings on both days, poorer as each day went on.


 " New Zealand - 7 - Fox and Frans" at EveryTrail

[ Alter the settings to zoom or change the Map, use Everytrail to download the Gps route ]


Lodged at Reflection Lodge and suitably rested, we awoke to a fine sky and sunshine.

I wondered outside to see the view and check out those promised reflections again.

Funnily enough . . . they were still there !

Wonderful views this morning

so I returned with the longer lens and zoomed in on the high peaks . . .

This is Mount Tasman, snow covered all year round,

reaching to an altitude of 3497m (or 11,365 feet) above sea level.

Near neighbours as I pan around the valley tops.

The wind is blowing the cloud off the top of Mount Cook.

Set slightly back, it looks smaller, but it is in fact the highest mountain in Australasia at 3754m (12,200 ft).

It looks mighty cold up there !

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We had mentioned to Raelene that we would like a helicopter trip up to the glacier . . . one of "the things to do" while you are staying in Fox Glacier.

Just a quick phone call later and we were told to get ready as the helicopter would be landing on the front lawn . . . in just ten minutes !

Breakfast was postponed in favour of coats, gloves, hats and camera . . . and to the sound of rotor blades overhead we were rushing for the outside door.

Talk about scramble . . . we were up and away on a heli-flight over the glaciers.

A grand circle tour starting with the lower peaks we had seen from the garden.

This is Mount Molke (or perhaps Ebenezar Peak) overlooking the Franz Josef in the Waiho River Valley.

We flew over to the Franz Josef Glacier . . .
. . . seen out of the side window as we turn.

Major seracs and crevasses pass beneath us

and even a side river diving into the glacier

from the adjacent hills.


The definition of a glacier, in simple terms,

is an ice field that has started to move !


The weight of the snow and ice on the high slopes

causes it to slip and slide its way down the hill.


The extreme weight and abrasive nature of the flow

digs deep into the landscape and carves out

classic glacial valleys such as this.

On the higher slopes, where the snow accumulates, it is smooth and clean

but the surface starts to break up and contort as it 'disappears over the edge'.

We climb to what must be about eight thousand feet as we crossed to the high neve or snowfields.

Lovely views of Mount Tasman . . .

. . . although we were experiencing slight buffeting from the strong winds.

Our flight took us across to see Mount Cook in close up

but the high winds prevented us from circling the peak itself.

Here an upland glacier ending in a sharp cliff fall.
Down below, a jumbled mass of ice.

We circle again and make our way down Fox Glacier.

The pilot lands on a snow field on the side of the valley, overlooking the major glacier.

Chance for us to get out and appreciate the surroundings . . . if only for a few minutes.

The surreal nature of helicopter travel is brought home as we look around

at an environment that is far removed from that of the valley below, despite such a short journey time.

This is serious snow country and with temperatures below freezing, gloves were quickly made use of.

Jason, our pilot, offered to take the group photo.

(I'm sure he had the date on the camera wrong . . . it was Saturday November 5th)

To our amazement he walked around to the back of the helicopter, plugged camera into a printer

and produced three copies of the photo which was duly presented in their special folders before we left our lofty perch !

The highest produced photos in New Zealand that day.

Isn't technology wonderful !

As we returned to our seats and prepared for take-off, another helicopter landed close by

so that they too could enjoy the uniqueness of the place.


Up and away again.


We circle round and set off

in a purposeful descent

down the length

of Fox Glacier.




More broken snow and ice as the glacier moves ever so slowly down the valley.

Swinging wide as we follow the turns of the valley.

A melt-water waterfall . . . as a side river disappears under the glacier.

Looking straight down at the ice.

The grey colour is due to the rock and stones which have fallen onto the ice from the valley sides.

The "snout" of the glacier where the river flows out from the bottom of the ice flow.

The wider grey scar is where the glacier has scraped and cleaned all the vegetation from the valley sides and also deposited all the stones and rock that have fallen onto it during its journey down the valley.

The narrowness of the ice flow and the wider grey areas shows that the glacier is retreating. It has been a lot bigger in previous years.

Earphones on to listen to the pilot and to lessen the engine noise.
The river bridge and State Highway 6, heading south

In all too short a time we had landed back at base, our head spinning with memories and visions

like the blades of the helicopter in which we had just travelled.

Oh good . . . Raelene has remembered not to clear away the breakfast table !

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Click on the play button to see the 4 minute video highlights of this hour long flight.

[ Use the right hand corner arrow controls to view full screen ]

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After our late breakfast it was suggested we visit Lake Matheson. The weather had clouded somewhat but it was still very pleasant.

We started at "You are here" and walked all round the red track.
First, through the forest on a well constructed DOC path.
An ancient and rather tall Red Pine . . .
. . . and the informative board close by.

Crossing the bridge over the Clearwater River

The peaty brown colour implies that some of the water has flowed out of the lake into the clear glacial river.

What we often call "Spanish Needles" in British gardens is the common Flax plant over here.

It is found in many drier environments such as hedgerows and coastal locations but grows surprisingly well in water too.

Walking along the boardwalk around the lake.

Had we been here a few hours ago !

The Southern Alps from Lake Matheson lakeside viewpoint.

[ Hold your cursor over the picture to see it as it would have probably been like earlier this morning.]

A slight climb brought us to see . . . the classic "view" from " the View of Views" viewpoint.

( It's call alliteration . . . don't try it after a few beers)


The unfurling of new growth . . .

The Koru

A classic symbol of re-birth often seen in Maori culture.

It was ever-present in the art of the region, in the pictures,

the Jade jewelry and in many tourist brochures as we travel round.

An hour and a half after starting we were back at the car park,

where we just had to stop in at the . . . Lake Matheson Cafe and Gift Gallery for a tea and a salad roll.

- - - o o o - - -

Next day it dawned bright and clear again . . .

It was possible that the reflections were even better . . . and no dogs to cause ripples today !

Water side Primula Candelabra
Mount Tasman again.

The plan this morning is to see the glaciers close up

so we drove the short distance by car up the valley towards the mountains.

At the end of the road they've made a large car park on the gravel.
Over the other side of the barrier is the river bed, hardly different.

This side has a man writing on a notice.

The young lady needs to read her own list and put a few more clothes on if she's venturing up on the ice !

Ahead . . . the prospect of a glacial valley in the making.

. . . and this is the rule book.

Click here or on the photo for a larger version ( e.g. to read the words more easily ! )

Ann and I set off up the track, passing quiet alluvial pools of beautiful glacial blue.

The classic colour is due to the fine glacial dust held in suspension in the water.

" Thou shalt not "
" or you will suffer greatly "

Glaciers and glacial valleys are unpredictable things . . . plenty of water, moving ice and rock falls . . . treat with respect is the message !

A track has been made through the stones of the valley bottom

and we would climb slightly up onto the grass on the left before reaching the end of the track.

Ann crossing the first of several side streams.
The perched boulder can be seen in the previous photo.

Closer now and we start to see the detail of the snout, the lower end of the glacier.

The end of the road for us is marked by light fencing and a notice.


I've seen that guy before somewhere.


Maybe it was his twin brother

who had a pole up the back of his jumper

down at the car park.


It was a shame we couldn't get a direct view of the river

as it emerged from the glacier but unsupervised,

this is as far as they wanted us to venture.


In recent years lives have been lost

by people who got too close during an ice fall.

Not for us . . .

There's plenty more to see elsewhere.

However I have a few photos from the area . . .

This is the current line of retreat of the ice face.

The river emerges from that slightly blue cave at the base.

There were parties on the ice

but they were led by local guides and were equipped for their walk with crampons and ice axes, etc.

Looking up to the upper reaches of the valley.

We must have landed the helicopter somewhere up there yesterday morning.

Time to leave and make our way back along the track.

Walking down to the car

we could look across to the cliffs

that form one side of the "U" shaped valley.


The river meanders across its wide bed of rock and boulders

all the way down its short journey to the sea.


Ultimately the valley would have been full of ice,

up to and over the height of these side walls

at the time of the last ice age.


Global warming, a change of climate or whatever,

has seen the glaciers gradually retreat

back up the valley.

A mile or so down the road, on our way out of the valley again, we see an extra information board.

This would have been one of the earliest recorded dates in the study of the ice flow in this area.


[ Sorry no photos as it was not permitted in the indoor centre.]



Driving over to the small town of Franz Josef, we called in to The West Coast Wildlife Centre where they have a wildlife breeding program for New Zealand's national bird, the Kiwi.

As a ground feeding, flightless bird the Kiwi is an endangered species. It has great difficulty escaping from the newer, introduced predators such as rats, possums, stoats,cats and other domestic animals.

Only 5% of chicks ever reach maturity, when they do they at least have size on their side.

The wildlife project searches for and removes eggs from nests, hand rears them and grows the chicks on in reserves like this till they are old enough and large enough to fend for themselves.

Success rates are believed to be over 75% when they are raised this way and released into Kiwi friendly reserves all around South Island.

[ The top photo from from their website. ]


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We completed the afternoon by driving up to see

the other glacier we had flown across yesterday.


Having walked to Fox Glacier

we chose to do the shorter walk to the Sentinel Rock.


- - - o o o - - -

A zig-zag path climbs steeply up to the local viewpoint.

With the cloud down and with a drizzle in the air

we climbed above the trees and could see the Franz Josef Glacier at the top end of the valley.

The island of trees to the left is Cone Rock.

Here again the signboard showed a photo of the area in 1894

where the ice can be seen in the valley alongside and for some distance beyond the rock.

Franz Josef Glacier is retreating in the same way as Fox.

Zooming in on the area just below the cloud base.

Alluvial moraine scattered across the surface of the ice slightly lower down.

The river of melt-water flowing from the ice cave at the base.

[ To estimate the size of the cave, check out the people on the right of the picture.]

Zooming out we see the full picture of the glacier

before we retrace our steps back to the car.

Once more across the river bridge at Franz Josef on our way back to our 'lodgings'.

Mine-host Raelene, discussing matters culinary with Ann.

Tea . . . courtesy of Reflection Lodge and dumplings . . . recipe courtesy of Loweswatercam's own resident chef.

I hope they tasted nice.

Raelene was entertaining personal friends that night and we were out, having earlier booked dinner at the Lake Matheson Restaurant.

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Technical note: Pictures taken with either Ann's Fuji Finepix or my Canon G10/1100D digital camera.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

This site best viewed with . . . . excellent Kiwi hospitality (people that is not the birds).

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