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About Franz Josef

Franz Josef Village

Today Franz Josef Glacier Village’s natural credentials are impeccable and there is a huge variety of natural attractions just a short distance from the Franz Josef Glacier Village. Lakes, rainforests, surging waterfalls and the glacial rivers of ice mean that the area is an adventure and leisure destination that is ready to be explored, the perfect location for your New Zealand skydive.

Franz Josef Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier (Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere) offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience a dynamic glacier, in a temperate environment, within easy driving and walking distance from the main highway.

In the last ice age the glacier extended in a huge ice-sheet to beyond the present coastline. Today echoes of its frozen past are still apparent in the landscape. The terminal face of the glacier is less than 300 metres above sea level.

Today this glacial fed river has aggregated as bulldozed debris from the glacier have been washed downstream by rainfall (6 metres a year!) As you drive along the West Coast Road you will see rivers smokey blue water. This glacial silt is evidence of a glacier high in the hills.

What’s in a name? Franz Josef Glacier: Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere

The Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (‘The tears of Hinehukatere‘). The legend of the Makawhio people (a sub tribe of the Nga Tahu) says that Hinehukatere was an extremely fit and fearless young woman who loved climbing in the mountains. She persuaded her lover, Wawe to climb with her. Wawe was less experienced but enjoyed accompanying his beloved.

Disaster struck when an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain. The gods froze these tears in a river of ice and the glacier formed as a reminder of her grief.

Leonard Harper crossed “Harpers Pass” in 1852 and named the Franz Josef glacier ‘Victoria’ and the Fox Glacier ‘Albert’ after the Monarchs’ that were ruling the British Empire at the time. Sadly the nineteen year old Leonard did not formerly register this name.

In 1865 Julius Von Haast decided to name the glacier after “His Imperial Majesty” Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and the local village later took its name from the glacier. This was only the first of a number of landmarks that Mr Haast did not actually ‘discover’ as a European explorer, yet, he took the liberty of naming.

Emperor Franz Josef “gifted” one of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park’s greatest pests. The two males and six female chamois were shipped to Wellington, taken by train to the Hermitige in Mt Cook National Park and released in 1907. As long as you hold a current permit the hunting of chamois is now unrestricted and even encouraged by the Department of Conservation to limit the animal’s impact on New Zealand’s native alpine flora

The Waiho River stays a chilly two degrees centigrade all year round and loosely translated the name means “Smoky Waters.” Whether this is because of the fine rock dust known as rock flour brought down by the Franz Josef Glacier makes the river look smokey; or because on a hot day the river seems to steam because of the difference between the ambient air temperature and water is unknown.



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