The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are both located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Although very close to each other and easy to access, these two glaciers are no less different, with varied landscapes. It is therefore not always easy to choose which one to discover when it is not possible to devote time to these two wonders of nature.
Not having been able to bring ourselves to make a choice, we finally decided to discover them both during the same day.
Coming from the Queenstown and Wanaka region, it was therefore natural that we started our day with the first glacier on our route: Fox Glacier.
For information, if you look on a map you will be able to see that this glacier is located just behind Mount Cook and is part of the same mountain range. Unfortunately (or fortunately, it all depends on the point of view), it is impossible to cross this mountainous region to connect the two glaciers by car. If you visit Mount Cook Park, you will therefore have no other choice than to make a big detour through Wanaka in the south to reach the west coast and the Fox glacier.
When the weather is clear, you can see the Fox Glacier from the road. The two best-known spots to contemplate the panorama are the so-called ‘peak viewpoint’ located on Gillespies Beach Road and that of the ‘Jetty Viewpoint’ on the shores of Lake Matheson. Both allow you to enjoy a fabulous view of the glacier and Mount Cook, especially at the end of the evening when the golden light floods the mountains. The spot from the lake is also very popular for photographers looking to capture the reflection of the mountains on the calm and clear water on beautiful windless days! (with the wind and the ripples you can forget about the reflection, even if the view is still very pretty).
Bad luck for us, the cloudy ceiling was very low, as much to tell you that the photo of the reflection from the lake Matheson we could square it well where you think 😀 Failing to have a beautiful photo (but far from being unique), the gloomy weather did not prevent us from appreciating the sublime landscapes crossed along the road before arriving at the glacier parking lot.
Even if the view of the glacier is not the most impressive in comparison with Mount Cook or just with our French glaciers in the Alps, the landscape is nonetheless incredible. I was personally stunned by the contrast between the glaciers and the tropical forest. It is really very strange to see this vegetation growing in such a austere area.
Franz Josef glacier
After this relatively short walk, we take the road again towards the second glacier, the Franz Josef, located 30 minutes from Fox glacier.
The Franz Josef glacier is much more popular than the previous one and you can see it from the parking lot, larger and yet well filled!
If you are wondering why it is more visited, simply because it offers more possibilities for hikes and activities and that the latter are, in my subjective opinion, nicer than at Fox Glacier. This was already the case when we visited, and I tell myself that it is even more likely now that it has become impossible to approach Fox Glacier on foot. His real asset compared to Franz Josef.
To discover the glacier on foot, you have three main choices:
- The very short Sentinel Rock Walk hike to reach a lookout (quite far from the glacier) in 20 minutes
- The popular and easy Franz Josef hike, which takes you to a belvedere on a moraine right in front of the glacier in around 1.5 hours (taking your time and taking lots of photos)
- The Robert Point Track sporty hike which provides access to a high point of view, overlooking the glacier. It takes 5 hours to make the round trip.
Given the weather, we quickly ruled out the third option. Instead, we followed the most popular trail without much conviction from our previous experiences in New Zealand. Indeed, since our arrival in this country, we have seen that very accessible hikes are often disappointing.
But because there is always an exception to the rule, despite the number of people on the trail, I can see myself pushing oooohs and aaaaahs of wonder most of the way.
It must be said that the landscape is just incredible! It was similar to what we had seen in the morning at Fox Glacier only better. In a few kilometers, going from the humidity of the rainforest to the freshness of ice is a sensation impossible to describe. Add to that the many waterfalls springing from the rock along the trail and I was back to being a kid with sparkling eyes.
I don’t even dare to imagine how beautiful it must be under a ray of sunshine!
Which one to choose ?
So, Fox glacier or Franz Josef glacier?
I think after reading this article and following the changes regarding access to Fox glacier, it becomes quite clear that the Franz Josef glacier is the one of the two not to be missed.
Even though I was charmed by these landscapes, I would nevertheless like to end this article with a warning about what you are going to see. If you have ever approached glaciers, whether in France, Switzerland, Austria or even abroad, in Iceland, in the Canadian Rockies or in Argentina to name only these well-known countries then do not wait to WAOUH. The sites are very pretty, but nothing compares to or as impressive as the glaciers present in the countries previously listed.
As I have already mentioned, what in my opinion makes all the specificity of these glaciers is their accessibility from the road without much difference in height and their tropical environment, which I had never seen elsewhere.
To sum up, even without being grandiose, these two sites are nonetheless remarkable and I therefore advise all visitors to include at least one in the planning of sites to discover in the South Island.