Heli-hikers at Franz Josef. © davidwallphoto.com

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers: monuments to nature’s power and beauty

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You can head to these magnificent monuments to nature’s power and beauty in high summer and feel winter closing in all around you.

These are eerie, bleak places, yet all the more arresting because of it. Often the only colour will be the brightly coloured ski jackets of a tour-bus party — and that’s OK, this is ‘wonders of the world’ territory here. And to view them becomes a pressing engagement: like glaciers everywhere, they’re in danger of melting, seemingly before our very eyes. Indeed, having advanced through the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, they then went into retreat again. So fickle, Franz and Fox, so fickle!

Somewhere in the region of 140 glaciers flow from the Southern Alps, but these two are the rock stars (sorry), great grey tongues of frozen ice and snow that have cascaded at, you know, glacial pace down the river valleys. Ironically, as glaciers go, their pace is actually fierce — about 10 time that of glaciers in the Swiss Alps, at anywhere between 1 to 5m a day. Nowhere else do glaciers come so close to the coast: few things are so visually captivating.

Which one? The obvious answer is both. Franz probably pips in on the picturesque front, Fox you can get much closer to it. You can almost smell the ice.

That said, they need your utmost respect — people have died here, trying to get the ultimate selfie. Stay at Franz Josef village and then opt for a guided tour if you want to get on the ice. Safely. If you’re feeling flush, grab a heli and hover above them to get a real perspective, or land on the ice and be truly wowed.

Whatever way you view them, these are almost like prehistoric creatures, with full, slightly intimidating personalities. Just when you thought the West Coast had got as weird as it could, here be glaciers. Ice, ice baby!

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