On our way down the west coast of the South Island, Dave and I stopped at the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Our hiking plans were completely thwarted by the torrential rains that had hit the area just a few days before our arrival.
We did manage a quick walk up the glacial valley to the Franz Josef Glacier.
Glaciers are rivers of ice... literally. Meters upon meters of snow will fall on the top of a steep mountain. The weight of the constant snowfall compresses itself into sheets of ice. The weight of the denser ice then slowly starts to slip down the mountain. As the ice moves, it carves out grooves in the side of the mountain. Viola! A glacier and a glacial valley!
Glaciers advance and retreat, meaning they move forward, away from their source (the “neve”), or backward, toward their source. When the rate of glacier creation—snowfall in the neve—is greater than the rate that the glaciers are melting and breaking apart at their terminus, then the glacier advances. Most glaciers around the world are retreating, but the glaciers on the west coast of the South Island are advancing.
The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are unique because they travel from the highest mountains in the country—over 3,000 meters—to the coastal rainforest in a span of only a few kilometers. Dave and I slept next to a beach, but we visited the Franz Josef glacier before lunch. These glaciers also move much faster than the average glacier. A heavy snowfall in the neve will produce an advancing glacier in about five years. The glacier can move up to a meter a day.
So, that's all you ever wanted to know about glaciers. Another spectacular phenomenon of our beautiful world!