Franz Josef (map) is a glacial area in *Westland. It lies at the foot of the western slopes of Mount Cook and is in the middle of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The glacier retreated 800 m in five years, prompting suggestions of a road up the valley as the ice disappears from view. Although the South Island’s steep, low altitude glaciers have always been dramatic in their advances and retreats, the rapidity of the present retreat is remarkable in geological time scales.
The West Coast was the last frontier to be exploited by New Zealand’s colonists. The region still has that frontier look and feel in many places. Even a few metres from the roadside you can experience what the first explorers might have encountered – pure and natural nature.
The area surrounding the two glaciers is part of Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.
It used to be possible to walk up to the glacier, but In March 2012 the terminal face of the glacier collapsed and it is now too dangerous to approach; signs warn against crossing the safety barriers at the lookout.
The walk from the car park to the terminal face is now nearly 4 km and many visitors are considering visiting the larger glacier at Fox (map) township instead (It’s about 30 min).
While you can take your car to the car park at the foot of the glacier, you will need to get out and walk 30 minutes to the terminal face, as the glacier is receding. There are walking tracks in the glacier valley. Please take heed of the warning signs as you get close to the glacier terminal face.
BUS > InterCity. New Zealand’s national coach company, with services connecting over 600 destinations nationwide. Backpacker buses – KiwiExperience Backpacker Bus and Stray Travel Bus offer bus trips around New Zealand where you can get on and off as you please after purchasing a pass.
RAIL > Inter-city passenger services are operated by KiwiRail Scenic Journeys, with just a few popular tourist services that pass through spectacular scenery and have a running commentary, panoramic windows and an open-air viewing carriage. (The online booking site maximises overseas revenue by only showing the cheapest fares when it detects that you are accessing it from a New Zealand IP address.)
WATERWAYS > – >> Interislander • Bluebridge – Two passenger and car ferry operators which cross Cook Strait between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. The journey lasts 3.5 hours and there are several sailings daily. >> *Cook Strait ferries