Viewing the glaciers is an exciting experience, but it can also be dangerous.
People have died or been seriously injured after ignoring signs and going over the barriers – you are taking a serious personal risk to get closer to the glaciers.
Follow these guidelines to have a safe and enjoyable visit. Your safety and that of your family is your responsibility at all times.
Access roads and tracks to Franz Josef and Fox glacier valleys can be closed due to rock falls or flooded rivers.
Glacier viewpoints may be hundreds of metres from the face of the glacier.
To help you choose which glacier to visit, check the latest track and weather conditions by visiting the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre (foyer open 24 hours) or visit the Glacier Country website to get the latest glacier access update.
- The weather can change at any time.
- Walking to the glaciers is over rough and uneven ground and can involve crossing streams.
- Be prepared to turn back if conditions are not favourable or you are outside your comfort zone.
You will need
- Good sturdy footware.
Beware of ice falls
- Warm waterproof clothing.
Read the signs and stay behind barriers
Every day DOC rangers check conditions and put up barriers and signs to show you the current hazards.
You will be walking on the floor of the glacial valley – right in the path of any dangers, like flood waters, river surges, rock or ice fall.
Never go over the barrier and stand close to the glacier face - rocks and ice fall from the terminal face continuously – some pieces can be twice the size of a campervan!
Beware of river surges
Glacial rivers can be dammed by ice falls; the dam will burst creating a huge surge of water and ice, flooding the valley.
Heavy rain can destabilise steep valley walls, causing rock fall. Do not stop in marked rock fall areas.
Downpours can create flooding within minutes. Follow the marked track, obey all signs and never cross barriers.
Beware of rock falls
Experienced ice climbers and guides who continue past the barriers and on to the glacier have the specialised equipment and skills needed.
Don't make one of these mistakes - it could be fatal
“I can see people up the valley – past the barrier – so it must be safe”
You may see people up the valleys beyond the barriers. They will be guided parties or people with experience in the valley. They know the conditions and have good safety systems in place to ensure the well being and safety of their party. Don’t follow these people and lead others into dangerous situations.
Beware of flooding rivers
“The barrier is in place, but the valley looks harmless. I can’t see any problem carrying on”
Don’t be fooled by the apparent calmness of the valley The barriers are in place because there is an imminent threat to your safety in the valley. There could be an ice-dam blocking the river about to burst at any moment causing a river surge; or there may be unstable rock above, ready to fall on your path. A flooding river or stream may be about to burst its banks. You might not see these threats but all are likely events in a glacier valley.
“But I came all this way to touch a glacier”
Ask the families of the people who have died if it was worth going beyond the safety barriers.
Getting up close safely
You can touch the ice by going with an experienced guiding company from Franz Josef or Fox townships. Guided trips are safe and informative.
For more information contact the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre.
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