Fox Glacier area

Image: Jose Watson | DOC

Introduction

The access road to the iconic destination of Fox Glacier/Te Moeka o Tuawe in South Westland will be closed for the indefinite future after an engineering report commissioned by DOC and the New Zealand Transport Agency found it was no longer practical to re-establish road access into the valley.

Date:  24 August 2019

This comes alongside an announcement today of a $3.9 million International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy investment to develop visitor experiences around Fox Glacier, and support the ongoing resilience of the South Westland tourism economy.

DOC South Westland Operations Manager, Wayne Costello, says, “We’ll do all we can to ensure opportunities to view the glacier by foot or bike, will be reinstated by the busy summer season. While visitors won’t be able to get as close to the glacier as they have in the past, these new opportunities will be designed to provide high-quality, enduring glacier country experiences.”

“DOC took the decision to close the road very seriously and has been guided by expert GNS Science/Te Pū Ao (GNS) and engineering advice. The estimated cost of reinstating vehicle and foot access to the glacier is approximately $16 million, with no guarantees the work would survive one of the heavy rain events the area experiences on a regular basis. 

“DOC has been working with the community and iwi to minimise the disruption of this closure on Fox Glacier/Weheka township, which remains open for business, offering many other stunning visitor attractions. Fox Glacier is also home to the world-famous Lake Matheson which is a significant drawcard for visitors.

“Helicopter glacier trips, snow landings and scenic flights are still operating and the close-by Franz Josef Glacier is open also.”

The access road has been closed since storms in February further mobilised an enormous landslide, causing damage to the access road and facilities. The road then suffered more damage during an extraordinary rain event in March.

The most recent closure came after a year of multiple landslides damaging the road and facilities, costing in excess of 1.5 million to repair.

The engineering report concludes there is no practical engineering solution to stem the flow of the landslide and enable road access to be re-established.

Background information

The access road, which leads to the glacier off State Highway 6, has been closed since a small flood in February 2019 destroyed a section of road opposite Mills Creek fan. This was the third closure in as many months. The road then sustained significantly more damage when the March 26 flood that destroyed the State Highway 6 Waiho Bridge also caused a massive landslide to send tons of rock and gravel into the Fox valley below, destroying the access road, causeway and carpark area.

The landslide causing all of the issues in the Fox Valley is known as the Alpine Gardens Landslide and is New Zealand’s largest active landslide. GNS estimates it to be 50 to 70 million cubic metres of material. It is the side of a mountain falling down and moving at approximately 116 mm a day. After heavy rainfall, it has been shown to be moving at 700 mm at day. GNS predicts valley conditions may take several years to settle.

Read the full engineering report (PDF, 22,907K)


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