Glacier Hiking in Franz Josef (NZ Adventure 5 of 5)

Franz Josef is a small town that happens to have a spectacular 12k long glacier as its backdrop. A body of ice forever in motion, constantly advancing and retreating several meters a day.

I blew into town under the ominous umbrella of storm clouds and fog so it wasn’t until a few hours later that I was able to look upon the glacier. From this vantage point it seemed so uninviting- this long, white mass of ice bound between two dark mountains with patches of grey fog still lingering.

On the sun drenched morning of my hike I dressed in layers, donned the hiking boots provided by our guide and was ready and anxious to get on that ice. Hiking along the rocky, river’s edge was easy, but I was soon detoured up into the rainforest due to the path being washed out from the previous night’s rain. A makeshift, muddy path at best with plenty of obstacles, like exposed tree roots, to trip me up if I wasn’t looking. Upon arrival at the glacier’s base I attached the crampons, took a quick glance up and for some reason the glacier looked more inviting from this position. The sun warmed me and made the glacier look like glistening wet glass. As I took my first steps I heard the sound of crushing ice underneath my crampons and I was psyched to be on my first glacier. I thought I would be colder once I actually started walking, but I wasn’t and most of the guides lead the groups just wearing shorts and t-shirt. It must be a workout to spend a day’s hike wielding an ax to clear a new path and create steps for us where previously there were none.

Once I got the hang of tramping with crampons I was pleasantly surprised that it was not too strenuous going up and down on the ice. Walking through and running my hands along the smooth surfaces of tall ice crevasses and executing the “French Shuffle” technique of using wide steps to balance was new and exciting to me. The threat of falling ice and falling through cracks in the ice was quite real so when my guide told me to hold on to the rope railings, I obeyed. At one point I had to actually swing from a rope to clear a divide in the ice. There’s that unexpected excitement I look for in my adventures.

I had plenty of opportunity to take in my surrounds, converse with my group and photograph the resident kea parrots. The higher up I went the more blue ice and spectacular scenery I encountered. Before descending to the base, I looked down the glacier and couldn’t help but gasp at the rugged, green mountains on either side of the glacier with their numerous waterfalls pouring down into the valley.

If I were to do this again, I would take advantage of the heli-hike just to see the pristine bluer ice and pinnacles that await at the top of the glacier.


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