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West Coast Glaciers

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Massive Rivers of Ice
Guided walk on the Franz Josef Glacier

Guided walk on the Franz Josef Glacier

© Tourism New Zealand

The West Coast glaciers of New Zealand's South Island are slow-moving massive rivers of ice.

Popular visitor destinations are the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers which lie roughly — as the crow flies — between Greymouth in the north and Milford Sound in the south.

The West Coast glaciers travel from about 40 centimetres to as much as five metres a day as the build-up of snow at the peaks continually push the ice masses down the side of New Zealand's southern Alps to the rainforests close to sea. On the other side of the dividing range, down Mt Cook, is the Tasman Glacier, popular for heli-skiing, but that's another story.

In fact, the Tasman Glacier is more easily accessible from Christchurch or Queenstown, but the glaciers of the West Coast hold for adventurers a fascination all their own.

Sightseeing on the snow

Both West Coast glaciers are quite steep and the ice travels a long way before it melts. They provide an opportunity for hikes on the ice surface, ice climbing, skiing and explorations.

Aerial sightseeing is available on planes and helicopters, some of which also land on the ice of the glaciers for a closer look. Sightseeing flights depend on the weather and, because of their popularity, should be booked in advance.

To reach the West Coast glaciers from Christchurch, a practical way is to take the train to Greymouth and then drive or take a bus south to Franz Josef or Fox or both. There are regular buses, too, from Queenstown to the glaciers.

Next page: Franz Josef Glacier

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