Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. If you are visiting the west coast region of New Zealand, I would really highly recommend this activity. Basically there are two places you could do glacier hiking – one at Franz Josef Glacier and one at Fox Glacier. I think both were offering more or less the same things but somehow we ended up going to Franz Josef Glacier. We also dropped by Fox Glacier the next day just to check it out since we were around the region, and we found that Fox Glacier is much more accessible, meaning that you don’t have to hike too long on the riverbed before reaching the glacier.
We did the full day hike, which could be tiring if you don’t exercise or hike regularly. I think the half-day hike would be a good choice too because half a day would be enough to see all the glacier wonders.
Gary and I gathered at the Franz Josef Guides’ office at 8.30am in the morning along with 30 other people. It took everyone sometime to get the equipment ready – the snow boots, thick socks, crampons and wind breakers, which were provided by Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
We then took a bus ride and arrived at the base of Franz Josef Glacier in about 20 minutes. At the beginning of the hike, it was more of trekking through some woods and dry riverbed for the first 40 minutes, before we eventually saw the tail of the Franz Josef Glacier.
On the way up the glacier valley, we saw spectacular views of the glacier. The glacier ice had a blue tint. It’s a result of the ice absorbing the red light, transmitting the blue light, and hence the ice is seen as blue in a viewer’s eyes. It was an unforgettable experience seeing the rugged landscape being covered by a blanket of ice.
The passages were very narrow and claustrophobic at times. Yet an incredible experience wandering through the passages.
The hike was mostly simple uphill or pre-chiseled steps. But at times, there were places where we had to climb with the assistance of ropes. Water-proof clothing would be advisable, especially the gloves, if you don’t want your hands to freeze as your hands will be frequently in contact with the ice.
We were really excited throughout the day and we were kept busy with our cameras. It was only at the end of the day, when we were making our down to the base, we started to feel the fatigue coming in after a full day’s hike. But it was all worth it. The scenery is so preserved that you don’t see any modifications made to suit the convenience of tourists. Franz Josef Glacier is kept as tranquil and pristine as it is, truly gave us the experience of being as one with nature.
Franz Josef Glacier Guide http://www.franzjosefglacier.com/
New Zealand Glacier http://www.glaciercountry.co.nz/
Westland National Park http://www.fourcorners.co.nz/new-zealand/westland/
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