New Zealand > South Island > Franz Josef Glacier to Christchurch

Sunday, 10th August 2008

We are starting early today, a long 400km drive ahead and we plan to return to Christchurch before it gets dark (click HERE for map). In the hotel parking lot, our poor little car is all frozen up, thanks to sub-zero overnight temperature. Some water should gently thaw the windscreen ice. 🙂

It’s dawn and our Fox Glacier Hotel looks radiant in the freezing air.

We continue our journey northwards along Route 6, and there is frost everywhere, making the plants and grasses look serenely white.

20-odd km on, we arrive at Franz Josef, site of another major glacier. We decide to take a quick look. Why not do both famous glaciers in one go? Been there, done that …

The access road is much better than Fox Glacier’s …

… and we reluctantly leave the warm car in sub-zero temperature. It is very very cold, no kiddin’!

I see, a bunch of trekkers are here already. In this freezing morning, they must be true fans of glaciers.

In the carpark, a destitute kid’s boot is all frozen up.

Another short walk to view the glacier, well at least to see its terminal face.

The well-tended footpath is ‘covered’ unlike at Fox, but it is still very cold, making the walk tedious.

Barely 10min later, we arrive at the viewing area and can’t go any further. The terminal face is more than a mile away, but it does not look as impressive as Fox’s. Not too long ago the face would have been right here, next to us.

The moraine debris can again be clearly seen staining the huge terminal face. The glacier is named after Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria in 1865, by the German explorer Julius von Haast.

Further up, the upper reaches of the glacier, as it ‘flows’ down from an altitude of 2700m to 240m in just 11km. It’s the world’s steepest and fastest moving glacier – flows at more than 7m per day. The Tasman Sea is 19km away and 10000 years ago, this glacier would have been there, at the sea. Note the characteristic blue ice.

At the viewing area we are surrounded by rainforest, and this tree fern looks very similar to the ones we find at our other home in Fraser’s Hill. The amazing thing is that both Franz Josef and Fox flow all the way down to the rainforest at almost sea-level, which is unique in the world.

The glacial valley is surrounded by beautiful peaks, enhanced by the brilliant blue sky. Again we are lucky to have such splendid weather in winter.

As we drive back to the main road, a sign marks the location of the terminal face of Franz Josef in 1750. We are some 5km from the present position of the glacier’s face, so that’s 5km of glacier gone in 250 years.

We rejoin Route 6 and head northwards to resume our return journey to Christchurch.

Along the way frosty grass and trees are everywhere, especially in areas shaded by the towering mountains to the north and east.

We enter the delightful village of Hari Hari.

Hari Hari’s main street heads east, and the village looks so peaceful and oblivious to the rest of the world.

65km on, we reach the town of Hokitika, famous for its hoki fish, another NZ icon. Btw McDonald’s Filet o’Fish contains hoki. Also try fish & chips with hoki – heavenly! Anyway I haven’t driven on a one-way bridge sharing with trains for a long, long time. Last was Kusial Bridge across the Kelantan river.

At last a major landmark –  the Kumara Junction – left Route 6 to continue along the west coast, straight on for Route 73 to cross the Southern Alps to Christchurch. 

There you go, another 233km and more snowy mountains to traverse. In winter this route is frequently closed due to snow. We are lucky today, it’s open.

Scenic Otira Highway as we head eastwards.

That’s the TranzAlpine train doing the daily Christchurch-Greymouth return trip. Connects the east coast and the west coast of South Island in 4.5hrs. One of world’s most scenic train journeys. Must do for train lovers.

The highway follows another beautiful glacial valley.

Soon we enter Arthur’s Pass National Park.

This is Arthur’s Pass, very vulnerable to snowstorms. 

More snow-covered peaks.

We are among the tall mountains in the middle of South Island.

Descending the pass.

Out of Arthur’s Pass National Park and we hit another huge glacial valley.

A memorial to the park, with inspiring backdrop.

A long one-way bridge crosses the valley, where Waikamariri river flows.

The road skirts the southern side of the valley.

Soon fertile pastures blanket the landscape.

Sheep and cattle country.

Look at the glacier-like flow of the snow. As it melts, the water seeps into the grey debris. I imagine it’s loose pebbles and stones – the scree. Fascinating geology.

We are on a plateau, but ahead more mountains loom.

Yes, more snow-capped mountains to admire.

We then start to cross another mountain range.

This is Porter’s Pass, and there’s fresh snow on the ground.

From here Christchurch is just an hour’s drive away.

Families picnicking in the snow. Kids toboggan and adults do the barbie.

Up the road, it is like a snow festival!

A young family having a swell time.

I bet most of these folks are from Christchurch, less than an hour away.

Tobogganing down the slope is sheer fun!

I look back as the crowd ends. What a beautiful noon.

Fresh snow in clear fine weather is quite a sight.

We leave the mountains and reenter the Canterbury Plains. The straight road goes right into Christchurch.

Downtown Christchurch at last, 4.5hrs after leaving the west coast. This is the city centre – Cathedral Square, …

… named after this famous cathedral. Anglican, built late 19th century, very English.

Very New Zealand-ish van.

Old tram runs along a loop passing major city landmarks. Very popular with visitors.

Spire of the Cathedral, at 63 metres.

Happy Segway visitors.

More oldish buildings at a major downtown junction. Christchurch (Maori: Otautahi) settled by the British in 1848, named after Christ Church college of Oxford. 2nd largest city in NZ with 360,000 people, I think it’s the most liveable city in the whole of NZ. 

We find our way to the 320m-long Christchurch Pier at New Brighton, which juts out into the ferocious South Pacific Ocean. Go 8500 km that way and you’ll hit Chile.

In the bitter cold, there is large crowd peering over the beach.

A beach artist is hard at work.

Not bad. He lays a piece of cloth on the sand for appreciative viewers to chuck coins onto.

Looking north along the coastline …

… and south. We end our quick Christchurch tour here. We check-in at a hotel near the airport because early tomorrow morning we are flying to Wellington to start our 2nd leg of this self-discovery of NZ.




  1. zat 14 April 2011
  2. naimAuthor 22 April 2011
  3. rostam 9 August 2011
  4. naimAuthor 24 August 2011
  5. ajay 15 October 2011

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