NZ 2015: South Island – Greymouth to the Glaciers

After crossing the country and enjoying some down time on the west coast, Alyce and I were so excited to visit the famous Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We had seen so many cool photos and were ready to be blown away by their natural beauty. We made the easy decision to book a helicopter trip and a hike over one of the glaciers, but had planned on visiting both of them by foot too. We drove down the coast from Greymouth and after a quick trip around the small town of Franz Josef, decided to head to Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson.

The glaciers are actually only about 30 minutes apart, but the road in between is horrible. It’s essentially a stretch of endless S-bends and hairpins. But the drive is worth it! Our first stop was Fox Glacier and we quickly bounded out of the van and started the short hike up the tail of the glacier to the look-out point. You can’t walk to the face of the glacier as the ice is too unstable – numerous people have been killed by falling ice-sheets around the face of the glacier over the years. The valley that has been carved out by the glacier over thousands of years looks like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. It was stunning.

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Lake Matheson is a short drive from Fox Glacier but after scrolling down, you’ll see why it’s so popular. The lake is not very big and the walk around the entire perimeter takes just over an hour. In the right light, with the right cloud-sky combination, you would get a stunning view of some white peaks reflected off the surface of the lake. It would have been perfect a few hours earlier, but we were too busy snapping photos up and down Fox Glacier! The lake actually features in heaps of advertising and you’ve probably seen it before.

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After hiking around Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson, we made the 30 minute drive back to Franz Josef. Our camp ground had an enormous outdoor spa that we were quick to take advantage of while enjoying a few beers. Who said camping had to be rough? We had an early night so that we could be up before the sun to ‘get to the chopper’ and onto Franz Josef Glacier. If you have good weather, and a bit of time, make sure you do this one day! The Franz Heli-hike was fantastic! A guide took a small group of about a dozen of us on a 3hr hike around the ice. The walk was easy after we figured out how to use the crampons, and the guide made sure we were safe at all times. He strung a few lines to prevent us falling into deep crevices and the team had cut some stairs into the steeper slopes to prevent clamouring over the glacier. I snapped plenty of photos as we walked around before squeezing through a small ice-cave that was barely big enough to get through, then heading back to the landing pad to fly out.

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