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On Walkabout On: The Fox Glacier

New Zealand’s Fox Glacier is located just a short 15 minute drive South from its more famous glacial cousin the Franz Josef Glacier. Like Franz Josef the Fox Glacier is located in a dramatic mountain valley that was carved out in prior centuries when this glacier extended it was believed all the way to the sea:

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The walls of this canyon are extremely steep and really quite stunning. This valley was even more impressive then the valley that the Franz Josef Glacier is located in. The steepness of these sheer rock walls really have to be seen to be believed:

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The walk to the Fox Glacier through this stunning valley was also only about half the length of the walk to the Franz Josef Glacier and we had far fewer people sharing the trail with us:

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Something else I noticed about this valley that was different from the Franz Josef valley was that little remnants of the glacier can still be seen in isolated patches in the valley that have not melted away yet:

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The mixing of the rock and ice in these isolated areas has helped prevent this portion of the glacial ice sheet from melting and can still be seen today.  A similarity with the Franz Josef Glacier valley is that this valley was also lined with various waterfalls cascading off the side of the valley’s walls:

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I would have to say though however that the waterfalls that cascaded around Franz Josef were larger and more impressive then what I saw in this valley. Anyway after about a 20-30 minute walk my wife and I came into view of the Fox Glacier. This picture really gives a good view of how this glacier like the Franz Josef Glacier are the only ones in the world that descend into a sub-tropical rainforest:

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The weather on the day we visited Fox Glacier was no where near as cooperative as the weather the day prior when we visited the Franz Josef Glacier, where we experienced mostly blue skies. This day the sky was overcast and the weather chilly. It wasn’t going to stop us from seeing this glacier though.

We continued to walk towards the glacier and the glacier appeared to be a bit smaller in size compared to the Franz Josef Glacier and did not have a large river melting from underneath it:

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Something it did have in common though was the number of hazard signs warning hikers of the dangers associated with getting up close and personal with this wonder of nature:

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The Fox Glacier was created over time just like the Franz Josef Glacier by the direct result of high levels of moisture coming off the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand that crash against the South Island’s giant peaks:

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The fact that this moisture is dropped on the west side of the island means that the east side of the South Island actually has a very mild climate compared to the wild weather the western part of the island experiences throughout the year. The heavy snow fall that piles up on these peaks eventually begins to pile up and then gravity takes over and compacts the snow which then becomes so heavy it slides down the mountain in giant ice sheets called glaciers:

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As the glacier slides down the side of the mountain it cuts into the sides of the valley it is moving through and carves the rock.  Also like the Franz Josef Glacier, the Fox Glacier has also seen a great retreat in the size of the glacier until the glacier began to grow again in the mid-1980’s.

The Fox Glacier is currently 12 kilometers which is 20 kilometers short of its one time maximum length that extended all the way to the Tasman Sea during the last Ice Age.  Eventually the clouds parted for a brief moment and my wife and I were able to take in a great view of the extent of this incredible glacier:

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Walking around the base of the glacier was much different then our experience the day before at Franz Josef Glacier because there was so few people visiting this glacier.  There was moments where literally we were the only ones at the base of the glacier which is a far cry from the hordes of tourists that visit Franz Josef:

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Something else unique to the Fox Glacier is the pointy almost cathedral like spires that can be seen from the base of the glacier:

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The eerie blueness of this spire was quite a sight to see.  Another difference between Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers was that Fox had a waterfall that ran down the mountain and into the glacier:

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After finishing checking out the glacier my wife and I quickly made our way back down the incredibly scenic valley because it was getting quite cold out and rain was beginning to fall, plus I had to go use the bathroom yet again since I was still suffering the effects of the food poisoning I experienced earlier in our trip:

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Overall my wife and I both agreed that the Franz Josef Glacier is more scenic then the Fox Glacier but if you are not a fan of crowds then Fox Glacier may be more to your liking.  However, in my opinion is best to go ahead and see both of them.  If you are traveling all the way to New Zealand and then making your way to such a remote area as the South Island’s West Coast, you might as well budget the time to see both of these incredible wonders of nature.  I know that my wife and I are glad that we did.

Next Posting: Video of the Fox Glacier

Prior Posting: Video of the Franz Josef Glacier

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