The Mighty Fox Glacier
The Fox Glacier - Te Moeka o Tuawe grinds down the Fox Valley from the high peaks of the Southern Alps - Ka Tiritiri o te Moana. It surges through temperate rainforest and turns a corner before terminating 250 metres above sea level. It is the longest and the fastest moving of the two famous West Coast glaciers, and only 12 kilometres from the Tasman Sea.
The névé or snow catchment area of the Fox Glacier is about 36 square kilometres (14 square miles), which is the same size as Norfolk Island. It is presided over by more 3,000m (10,000ft) peaks than any other valley in New Zealand. Douglas Peak, and Mounts Haast, Tasman, Torres and others feed snow into the névé and cast their shadows at sunrise.
Gravity squeezes the snow from the névé down the valley as if it were toothpaste. The once fluffy snowflakes decompose and are compressed into the hard blue ice that you can see in the lower icefalls. The forces generated by the moving mass of ice grinds away at everything in its path. However, this is not a lightning speed process, and it takes between 15 and 25 years for the snow to be transported from the névé to the terminal face.
The vertical schist rock walls of the Fox Glacier valley are over one kilometre high. They were ground out by the glacier around 18,000 years ago when the ice reached all the way to the Tasman Sea. Like the rings on a tree trunk, these cliffs tell the geological story of the Southern Alps K Tiritiri o te Moana. The dynamic forces of the tectonic plates collide along the Alpine Fault, built the mountain range, and left these layered sedimentary rock faces behind.
The European history of the area began in 1852 when Leonard Harper arrived. He named the ice flow Albert Glacier after Prince Albert the Consort to Queen Victoria. In 1865 Julius Von Haast formerly registered the name Fox Glacier, in honour of Sir William Fox, the New Zealand Premier. Sir William Fox even visited and painted a famous water colour in 1872.