The Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier (25km north) reach down from some of the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, in Westland National Park, to around 300m above sea level, amid dense forests. They were originally named after Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert. But in 1865 the German geologist Julius von Haast renamed the more northerly of the two after the Austrian emperor Franz Josef.
And in 1872, when the then prime minister of New Zealand visited the glaciers, the one to the south was given his name.
The glaciers are at their most impressive at sunset. The very high rainfall (up to 7500 mm) produces dense rain forests but also means many rainy days. Stable weather conditions prevail in winter, when the snow-capped peaks that form the backdrop to the glaciers can often be clearly seen. In summer, during the main holiday season, the two holiday resorts at the foot of the glacier are overcrowded; it is essential, therefore, to book well in advance.
A 7km road and a footpath lead to the mouth of the Fox Glacier. A walk over the glacier is not difficult with suitable footwear. For inexperienced glacier walkers a guided walk (available twice daily) is recommended.
From the Peak Indicator, a viewpoint 9km further west, there are magnificent views, in clear weather, of the mountain peaks and the creeping glacier. The view is particularly fine at sunrise or sunset.