View of State Highway 6, during our ‘road trip’ through New Zealand’s West Coast
After passing Arthur’s Pass, we continued on the Great Alpine Highway for another hour, until we reached State Highway 6 (SH6), a highway that crosses New Zealand’s West Coast. We drove south in the SH6 for another 150km to our hotel in the city of Franz Josef. We were ansious to visit New Zealand’s glaciers.
Another path we could have taken was driving north in the SH6, and reach Westport, passing for a coastal and scenic road with beautiful landscapes. One of the famous points of interest on this path is the Paparoa National Park.
On our way to Franz Josef, we made a final stop at the Hokitika Gorge, a place for contemplating the Hokitika River. The Hokitika River is formed by glacial waters and therefore its blue color draws a lot of attention among the darker vegetation.
In Franz Josef, we stayed at Glenfern Villas, where the accommodations were very comfortable well-equipped.
Animals at Glenfern Villas Hotel, in Franz Josef, west coast of New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier
We started the day by visiting Franz Josef Glacier, one of the most popular glaciers in New Zealand. From our hotel it was only 10min to the parking lot. Leaving the main road (SH6), we only had to drive for another 3.5 km to the glacier.
We made the trail Kã Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk, of approx. 5.5km (round trip). The trail passes by the middle of the temperate forest of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and goes to the viewpoint from where you can see Franz Josef Glacier. A guide is not required for this trail. Some travel agencies offer this service, but we found that the trail is exactly the same as the one you do on your own.
Part of the path taken to see the Franz Josef Glacier up close
I confess that by having seen photos of Franz Josef Glacier previously, I had a very high expectation of the view and was a little disappointed. It turns out that Franz Josef Glacier, like other New Zealand glaciers, is shrinking in size very quickly.
Fox Glacier, seen from the viewpoint – over time, the glacier receded and debris began to cover it
In the same day, we took the SH6 again, now to visit Fox Glacier. Fox Glacier is approx. 30km from Franz Josef Glacier. Like Franz Josef, Fox Glacier is also next to a city that bears his name. Leaving the main road, it is about 3 km to the parking lot.
Right next to the parking lot, there was a beautiful turquoise lagoon, which is an attraction itself.
Blue and super transparent water lagoon on the way to Fox Glacier.
The trail to Fox Glacier lookout is about 2.6 km long (round trip), and easy level. Guide accompaniment is not required. The trail passes through the valley, for the most part, in an open area and crosses some streams. The final section has an uphill from where the glacier can be seen.
Compared to Franz Josef, the Fox Glacier, although smaller, can be seen more closely. I find it interesting to visit both of the glaciers, the vision of the 2 glaciers is complementary in a way.
About New Zealand’s glaciers
Franz Josef Glacier – the view from the lookout can be disappointing
Some travel agencies offer tours to Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Before hiring, get well informed about the activity, what it includes and the level of preparation required.
The tours are usually very expensive because currently any activity that takes the visitor to the glacier involves transport by helicopter.
The only options without a helicopter are the trails to the lookout, with a view to the glaciers, in which case you don’t walk on the glacier. But these same trails can be done free of charge without a guide. In the case of Fox Glacier the guide can take you a little closer to the glacier, but this will depend a lot on the conditions.
Glaciers are in motion all the time, so it’s important to always stay on the marked trail, observe the conditions of the place and obey the signs of the park.
Comparação do Fox Glacier nos anos de 2008 e 2014 – os efeitos do aquecimento global são notáveis com o recuo dos glaciares.
Both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Like all New Zealand national parks, admission is free.
On our visit to these 2 glaciers in New Zealand, the effects of global warming were quite evident as both have drastically reduced in size in recent years. New Zealand, due to its large cattle ranching, is a country with a high CO2 emission and this makes warming faster in the country.
In good weather, the reflection in the waters of Matheson Lake is perfect! The lake’s surface even reflects the fog!
About 10km from Fox Glacier, is one of the most incredible landscapes on New Zealand’s South Island. I’m talking about Matheson Lake, that due to its darker coloration, when the water is still, reflects the surrounding landscape in an impressive way.
The trail that runs along the Matheson Lake perimeter is a circle and is 2.6 km in total. There are some viewpoints scattered along the trail, if you have time I recommend stopping at all of them.
This was the look of Matheson Lake on the 1st visit – cloudy day and without the effect of the reflection!
We had to visit Matheson Lake twice to get to see the reflection that way. On our first visit, the view was beautiful, but nothing exceptional. However, when we returned the next morning, the image we saw was like this:
Did you notice the branch “floating” in the air? In front of the mountain? What is the magic? This branch is actually on the surface of the lake – and the photo is reversed! It’s difficult to differentiate the original image from the reflection, right?