Welcome to the heart of Glacier Country – the township of Franz Josef – nestling at the foot of the Southern Alps.

Feel the buzz of excitement as coach loads of expectant tourists are whisked away from the Alpine Adventure Centre, and aerial sightseers soar skywards in a whirl of rotor blades, bound for Mt Cook. For motorists the great Franz Josef Glacier is just a short drive plus a 30 minute walk away. A towering icefall marks the terminal face of the 12 km conveyor belt of ice, grinding inexorably down to destruction in a surging torrent of rock-powder and water.

Once you have seen the glacier, you are bound to feel a compelling desire to walk on its curiously contorted and strangely beautiful surface. You can sign up for a half-day tour with The Guiding Company, at the Alpine Adventure Centre. They will fit you out with glacier boots, socks, raincoat, overpants, hats, gloves, fleece jumper and walking poles.

Walking on the ice is a truly great experience. The well-trained guides cut steps in the glacial ice terrain and lead you safely through seracs, pinnacles, caves and crevasses, while interpreting the geology of the translucent blue wonder beneath your feet. The Guiding Company has much more fun on offer. Their full-day tour provides 6 hours of exploration through breathtaking sapphire blue caves and ice pinnacles on the glacier’s second icefall. Heli-hiking takes you even higher for magnificent alpine views. Ice climbing gives you the skills to ‘hang in there’ on vertical walls. After your tour kick back in Cafe Franz, enjoy a cold beer and sizzling steak or use the internet facilities.

You can also enjoy independent walks in the area including the Glacier Valley Walk, Sentinel Rock Lookout and Douglas Walk. The longer Robert’s Point and Alex Knob Tracks lead into the sub-alpine terrain under the high peaks of the Southern Alps.

To get up close and personal with a creeping, rumbling giant like this namesake of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, is to experience the true magnificence of the wild West Coast.