Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

November 19, 2014  •  6 Comments

*Post written by Vlad*

Despite another long drive (7hrs with stops) from Wakefield to our next destination, Franz Josef Village, I was looking forward to it. The scenery in New Zealand, and in particular, the South Island, is something that can only be seen in person to appreciate. Our drive took us down the west coast, where we stopped in Punakaiki to view the magnificent pancake rocks. These natural phenomena get their name because they resemble stacks of pancakes rising up from the ocean. At another rest stop we met a super friendly kiwi in the wild. He was so friendly that Edyta had to throw him a few crackers away from the car so we could escape and resume our drive. On second thought, we think he was sick because he was limping and as a nocturnal bird he should not be out in the middle of the day. 

A few things to note as we drive around NZ:  

  • We stop quite often, not just for gas and to get out and stretch, but just to take in the natural beauty of this country. There is a grand mix if rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, oceanfront, majestic lakes, sheep, cows, deer, and lush vegetation almost around every corner that makes it so esthetically pleasing to the eye. 
  • The highways are only single lane in each direction, with a periodic passing lane.  While this may drive North American drivers insane, we often find ourselves content sometimes stuck behind a car doing the speed limit (heaven forbid they weren't speeding). And why weren't we enraged? See above point.

We rolled into the booming metropolis of Franz Josef (two streets; pop. ~330) in the early evening and made our way to Chateau Franz Josef for the night. This place was far from a chateau and in actuality was a hostel. As you may have noticed, we have been doing Airbnb and staying with hosts for the majority of Oz and NZ. We were looking forward to the new experience of a hostel. And boy what an experience it was. We were put in a stationary caravan trailer fully equipped with a bed, TV/VCR combo, and near frost like conditions. Despite all of this, we made the best of it since we knew we had a nicer place for the next two evenings. 

The main reason for our visit to Franz Josef was the Franz Josef Glacier. We booked a helicopter ride and 3 hour hike on the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. They equipped us with a jacket, pants, boots, socks, and crampons, which are detachable metal cleats to ensure a solid grip on the glacier. We had two guides for our group of 12.

It was the first time either of us had been in a helicopter, and what a thrill it was. The smooth, 5 min ride up took us up beside the mountain face and dropped us smack in the middle of the glacier, where our guides awaited. We layered up anticipating cold temperatures, but ditched a layer or two a few minutes in. It got white warm up there thanks to a blaring sun and its reflection off of all the snow. It's now wonder our guides were in short sleeves and some were even in shorts. 

The guides took us up and down various parts of the glacier, at times having to carve out new steps with their pic axes. It's hard to describe the sheer size and depth of such a structure, but let me try my best: It was big!  It was also cool to chat with other members of our small group, which consisted of people from The Netherlands, Malaysia, China, England and Germany. We thought the hike to the base of the glacier the day before was impressive, which it was. But actually being on the glacier took our astonishment to a whole new level. 

We ended the day with a two hour soak in town's outdoor hot pools, where they had 3 pools of differing temperatures. A perfect end to a fantastic visit. 

Bit of a long drive. 

Scenic stop along our route.  Another one. There are plenty of these in NZ. All you have to do is follow brown informations signs and you can end up in some beautiful places like this one.  Rest stop overlooking the coast.  Pretty certain this is a kiwi bird.  It was walking around with a leg that looked twisted. 

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New Zealand The Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki.  There was a nice trail along the coast from which we admired different "stacks of pancakes".   Punakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New ZealandPunakaiki Pancake Rocks of New Zealand Thanks to erosion, this rock doesn't stand a chance in the next million years or so. 

Pretty tough to drive with views like this... ...and this. We stop often. 

Main street, Franz Josef Village.  First night at Franz Josef we spent in this fine establishment. 

Now that's better. Two other nights. 

Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Our hike to the Franz Josef Glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. The Franz Josef Glacier in the middle of the valley. The trail ends not too far from here.  The glacier is only accessible by air.  Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier hike. An assortment of rocks found on our hike to the glacier. How glaciers form. 

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. The next day, we did a hike ON the glacier with an organized tour by Franz Josef Glacier Guides. It was our first helicopter ride, which was a wicked experience. Edyta was at first a bit scared but then she loved it. The whole trip was one of the best experiences of our lives.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We quickly shed a lot of our gear. It can get surprisingly hot on the glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We learned how to put on crampons. They were necessary to walk on the glacier.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. At the beginning of exploration.

We passed through a few crevasses.

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Our guides had to carry these to form new steps. 

Franz Josef Glacier in its glory. 

Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Descending.   Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Some crevasses were pretty deep.  Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike. We had lots of fun on this expedition.

Landed! What a thrill. We loved this experience. 

Hot pools (iphone photo). 

 


Comments

6.Vladyta
@Ewa & @Gabu - super EPIC, one of our favorite things so far on this trip. Worth every penny. :-)))))
5.Gabu(non-registered)
Wow, amazing gallery. I'm glad you explained what crampons are - they're like... cleats, but for ice! I feel like not a ton of people can say they've gone hiking on a glacier, it's a truly remarkable experience. Definitely worth the funky trailer stay :)
4.ewa(non-registered)
wow something tells me this Canadian likes his cold weather :)
the establishment was fine so fine ; )
def. looks like an epic adventure!
xoxo
3.Vladyta
@ sterz - thanks dude! We really loved NZ. Gorgeous country. The air was super fresh just like it must have been on your trip to South America.

@ Vanessa - had to get some warmer clothes and this funny shirt was on sale. Somehow I lost it though :-(
2.Vanessa(non-registered)
LOL. "Oh for fox sake"
No comments posted.
Loading...