Explore our regions
Franz Josef Glacier
The Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere is about 12 kilometres long and has a névé or snow catchment area of 20 square kilometres. The terminal face of the glacier is less than 300 metres above sea level. The glacier moves at speeds of up to five metres, making it one of the fastest moving glaciers on the planet.
In the last ice age the glacier extended in a huge ice-sheet to beyond the present coastline. Although today’s glacier has retreated considerably since that era, you can still see echoes of its frozen past in the present landscape. Look out for lines of vegetation with bare rock or younger vegetation below. These ‘trim lines’ show where the glacier used to be.
Sentinel Rock, a 20-minute return walk, is a roche moutonnée. This is a rock formation shaped by the passage of ice to give a smooth up-ice side and a rough and craggy surface on the down-ice side.
The Waiho or Waiau River stays a chilly two degrees centigrade all year round. Debris from the glacier is washed down the stream of the river by a rainfall of some six metres a year. You will notice the river water below the glacier is a milky colour. This is caused by boulders grinding against each other below the glacier and producing very fine suspended rock sediment known as rock flour. You will see this milky colouring in other rivers as you drive along the West Coast, a sign there is a glacier high in the hills.
The Department of Conservation checks the Franz Josef Glacier valley first thing every morning
For more information check out the daily glacier access update on this site.
Things to do:
Within the glacier valley are a number of short and longer walks and guided glacier walks are available. Or you can take a scenic flight. Note that you are not permitted to walk on the ice without a guide.
See also: Franz Josef Area history