Glacier Country is part of Westland and Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area. It sits around Franz Josef Glacier / Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere and Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe. It is roughly bounded by Whataroa to the north and Gillespies Beach, Lake Matheson, and Fox Glacier to the south.
Franz Josef and Fox are the longest of a series of glaciers that run northwest from the high peaks around Aoraki Mt Cook and Mount Tasman. They have long been tourist attractions and the gateway towns of Franz Josef Waiau and Fox Glacier largely exist to support travellers. Despite significant retreats over the last few decades, they continue to be relatively easy to access from State Highway 6. The drive to Franz Josef Waiau is about two hours from Hokitika and it takes 90 minutes to drive north from Haast to Fox Glacier. The road between the two towns is also one of the most spectacular drives in NZ as it crosses two saddles on the fringe of the Southern Alps.
To access the Glaciers, there are several walking tracks to viewpoints as well as various commercial tours onto the ice. The walking options include trails that follow the paths of retreat, Fox being a bit more accessible. There are also several shorter walks onto the glacial moraine and nearby lakes and rainforests. At Franz Josef there are two excellent hiking/tramping options; Roberts Point Track and Alex Knob Track. Both climb to high viewpoints on either side of the glacial valley.
But it’s not just glaciers in Glacier Country. Lake Mapourika is to the north of Franz Josef and a perfect location for camping and water activities. From there, head to the coast at Ōkārito with its huge lagoon. Hike through the wetland for views from the top of the Ōkārito Trig Walk. A bit further south, a side trip takes you to Lake Matheson. Choose a calm day for a walk around the lake with its perfect mirror reflections of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, highlighted by Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman Rarakiroa.
Thanks to Georgia (@the_cornishpixie) and Jan Rozen for the photos.