The twin glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef tumble down from the steep, western side of the Southern Alps, fed by four alpine glaciers and following the course of deep valley floors. A number of unique climatic and geological factors means that they reach over 12 kilometres almost to sea level, making them the most accessible glaciers in New Zealand. Indeed, many of the activities in the area revolve around the glaciers: scenic flights, guided hiking, heli-hiking and ice climbing. However, the surrounding rainforest – fed by an impressive average rainfall of five metres a year – is a haven for native birds and provides some lovely walking opportunities.
The aptly named townships of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier provide accommodation and services for this stretch of the west coast. The whole area is part of Westland National Park meaning that development is limited, the resident population is low and despite the constant buzz of visitors in the summer, this remains a beautiful, untouched region.
South of the glaciers the road winds in and out of the coast, passing through a few remote settlements before reaching the magnificent Haast Pass. Skirting the northern edge of Mount Aspiring National Park there are a number of short walks, viewpoints and waterfalls along the way, as well as plenty of truly spectacular mountain scenery. Make sure you take your time over this journey.