The Franz Josef is a 12 km long glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier, 20 km to the south, it is unique in descending from the Southern Alps to less than 300 metres above sea level, amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.
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.
The stunning glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions of the West Coast, with around 250,000 visitors a year and up to 2,700 per day as of 2007. Guided and unguided walks up to and onto the glacier are both possible. The latter requires specialised equipment – namely ice axes and crampons – that latch onto a sturdy boot.
Though the glacial landscape changes almost daily with the glaciers unusually fast flow (with some walks including passages through ice tunnels), they are still considered safe and only somewhat strenuous.
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