Monday, June 6, 2022

Franz Josef Glaciers in New Zealand

The Franz Josef Glacier / Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere is a 12-kilometre-long (7.5 mi)  temperate maritime glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the south, and a third glacier, it descends from the Southern Alps to less than 300 metres (980 ft) above sea level.The area surrounding the two glaciers is part of Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site park. The river emerging from the glacier terminal of Franz Josef is known as the Waiho River.

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are the most publicly-accessible glaciers in New Zealand, and among the most accessible in the world – until recently, there was easy walking access directly to the glacier termini. Consequently for over a century they have been a significant tourist attraction. The glacier is associated with the Graham family, in particular mountaineers and guides Alec and Peter Graham and Rose Graham and historian Dorothy Fletcher (née Graham). Services in their hotel brought about the construction of St James Church. Extract from the February 1936 issue of National Geographic Magazine: "But the Franz Josef Glacier and its background of mountains is worth waiting long to see on a clear day. It is one of the most remarkable glaciers in the world. Slipping down from a large snowfield at more than 8,000 feet, it terminates in subtropical bush, only 700 feet above sea level. Movement in its upper reaches is remarkably rapid, 15 or more feet a day.

Today the Franz Josef glacier area is the third-most-visited tourist spot in New Zealand, and one of the main tourist attractions on the West Coast. It had around 250,000 visitors a year in 2008,[9] increasing to 700,000 a year (500,000 overnight) in 2017. 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. As of 2020, the valley walk ends at a lookout about 50 m from the main terminal face of the glacier. Visiting the glacier now requires a helicopter flight past the unstable terminal face. Glacier walks also require some specialised equipment, namely ice axes and crampons that latch onto a sturdy boot. These are usually provided by tour companies.

At the entrance of the valley lies the village of Franz Josef, which has a permanent population of approximately 330 residents. It is situated 5 km from the glacier on State Highway 6 and has a petrol station, small but busy heliport, numerous tourist accommodation options (with up to 2,000 people staying overnight during the main season) and a number of restaurants and shops. Just south of the village, a sealed road leads from the highway into the Franz Josef Glacier valley and to a car park. Several small walks start from the Valley Road and the car park, and it is also possible to comfortably cycle from Franz Josef township to the car park.

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