Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

Once we arrived in the town of Franz Josef Glacier we checked into our hotel room and headed over to the main office to book our glacier climb for the next day. As we were booking our glacier walk, a women from Switzerland who had just gone on the day glacier hike walked in and started raving about her experience. Lisa and I had only wanted to go on the half day hike but after hearing this woman’s experience we opted for the full day glacier hike.

It was starting to get pretty late in the day and we hadn’t eaten much so we headed down to a local restaurant in town called The Landing. Lisa ordered a curry dish and I had the calamari salad, both meals were delicious. During the meal I decided it was time to start tasting some of the fine beers New Zealand had to offer, so I ordered myself a pint of Speight’s. Speight’s is one of the two main brands in New Zealand and after I put it back I new why, it went down so smooth, just like Kokanee Gold back home in Canada.

Calamari Salad at 'The Landing"

Calamari Salad at 'The Landing"

After our meals Lisa and I headed over to the local grocery store and got a few snacks for the glacier walk the next day. The glacier tour company did not provide any food and recommend we bring our own.

We still had some of the evening left so Lisa and I walked around the town of Franz Josef and took in some of the local scenery; the town isn’t very large so we walked most of it before retreating to our hotel room for the night. We needed our rest for the big glacier hike the next day!!

Day 14

2 Miles from Franz Josef Glacier

2 Miles from Franz Josef Glacier

We were up real early this morning as we needed to be at the Franz Josef Glacier Guide’s tour centre at 8:15 to begin our glacier tour. Luckily for us the town of Franz Josef is so small, that it was only a five minute walk away. We arrived at the tour center at 8:00 and sat around for a few minutes until the rest of our group arrived.

Once everyone in our group had arrived we checked in and were suited up with hiking boots, socks, rain jackets, toques and mittens. We were then all loaded onto the tour bus and took a short fifteen minute ride over to the parking lot at the base of the Franz Josef Glacier.

In the parking lot our hiking group got off the bus and headed down a path through a wooded area; within about 10 minutes we were out in the open and looking at the glacier in the distance. At this point the guide stopped the group and asked how far from the glacier we thought we were. Most of us thought we had another 25 minutes of walking at the most but the guide pointed out that we were currently seeing an illusion, and that the glacier was so big that it looked close but was in fact over 60 minutes away.

Water from Franz Josef Glacier

Water from Franz Josef Glacier

During our one hour walk to the bottom of the glacier, the guide stopped our group several more times and pointed out different features of the canyon and gave us a quick history lesson on the glacier. The guide mentioned that the canyon we were standing in was formed by the glacier and at one point over 100 years ago covered the crushed bed rock we were currently walking on. But since that time the glacier has retreated over a kilometre to its present day spot. The guide also pointed out that Franz Josef Glacier is a warm glacier, which means that water and rock move through the glacier and that the glacier is not attached to the bed rock beneath it, unlike most other glaciers in the world. The Franz Josef Glacier can move 7 meters some days and at the moment the glacier is getting larger and has been doing so for the past two years.

Once we arrived at the base of the glacier only then could I stand in awe of the glacier’s true size. The glacier towered high above our group with huge 30 to 40 foot chunks of ice jutting out from every location.

Looking up at Franz Josef Glacier

Looking up at Franz Josef Glacier

Our group of 25 was then split into three smaller groups. Group A, being the more adventurous, Group B being a little less adventurous and Group C being the more relaxed group. I wanted group A, but Lisa wasn’t really geared up for the hike in the first place, so we went for C. Not that it really mattered in the end because we climbed to the same height as groups A and B, we just did it a little slower.

Only once we started climbing on the glacier did I really get a feel for its size; the glacier is enormous! From the ground you think you could climb the whole thing in an hour or two but once the climbing started you realize that an hour or two will only get you a fraction of the way up.

Climbing the glacier was quite slow going, our guide Cliff would stop every few steps and chip away at the path in front of our group with his ice axe. We made our way up the first section of the glacier passing inches away from several crevices that were hundreds of feet deep and crossing over them on makeshift bridges which were essentially ladders with some rope as a hand rail. Although it may sound kind of scary the bridges were very safe, not once did I feel uncomfortable crossing over them. And our guide was sure to give us instructions on the safest way to cross over them.

Climbing Franz Josef Glacier

Climbing Franz Josef Glacier

Once we got past the first section of the glacier we came to a plateau, which was a flat open surface of ice that stretched across the surface of the glacier for a few hundred feet. We could walk almost anywhere in this area, it was incredible easy to get around, nothing like the first section we had just come through. Along our path on the flat section of the glacier we picked up some ice picks and continued on our way into the third more difficult part of the glacier.

The third section of the glacier is where we ended up spending the rest of our time on the glacier. Our guide Cliff lead us up and down looking for tunnels to crawl through or neat areas in this section of the glacier to climb. A few of the sections we were lead through were a little intimidating! One section had us using our ice picks to balance ourselves on a narrow ledge which was only wide enough for one foot alongside a large crevice which looked to be a hundred feet deep. I looked back at Lisa when I first approached this area and she gave me the holly shit eyes!! And I’m sure I gave them right back!

Looking Down on Another Climbing Group on Franz Josef Glacier

Looking Down on Another Climbing Group on Franz Josef Glacier

At our highest point in the walk up the glacier we stopped for lunch. Before the tour everyone was instructed to bring their own lunch and beverages. Lisa and I had packed some granola bars, nuts and some water, so that is what we ate.

After lunch we started heading back down the glacier. In the back of my mind I was really hoping we would have to deal with a few less crevices while I think Lisa by this point loved it and was looking for a little more adventure.

The walk down the glacier was much easier then the walk up. I think the guides purposely take you through the tougher stuff which takes longer and then take the easier walk down, that way you are spending more of your time doing the fun stuff.

Our walk down was pretty flat and fortunately for me we had no more encounters with death defying crevices, we did however still have to go over the makeshift bridges.

When we got back down to the bottom and off the glacier we took off our climbing gear and followed our guide back down the path that lead back to the parking lot.

Town of Franz Josef

Town of Franz Josef

On our way back to the car park our guide Cliff took us on a few more small tours just off the main path, mostly just pointing out more features of the canyon. One of the features that we came upon was a waterfall which Cliff went on to say that after a warm summer day up on the glacier he would walk through, and then proceeded to encourage me to do so. I handed anything important that was on me to Lisa, leaving on most of my clothing and walked into the water fall, it was extremely cold!!

Back at the car park we waited for the other groups to arrive and then hoped back on the tour bus for the short ride back to town.

When we got back into town and finished handing back all our gear Lisa and I were freezing, especially me since I was still yet. We went back to our hotel room changed into some fresh clothing and walked around town looking for a restaurant.

We found this great little restaurant called Monsoon down the street from our hotel and went in. Lisa and I were both starving so we each ordered our own pizzas.

When the pizzas arrived at our table, Lisa and I both looked at one another and smiled, they where huge!! Some how or another Lisa and I managed to polish both pizzas off and still have room for Pavlova for dessert.

After supper Lisa and I headed back to our hotel room watched some TV and called it a night.


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