Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Glacier Country- Franz Josef Glacier


Of course I couldn't do one without the other; so after completing the Fox Glacier walk, next on the agenda (after a few days rain) was Franz Josef Glacier,  which was just a short trip from the NZMCA Park, through the Franz Josef village...

...across the Waiho River bailey bridge, turn hard left...

...and up the access road for about 4kms, to another large carpark. Which is rather busy, probably due to the previous few days incessant rain and because Fox Glacier has been closed for a few days (due to flooding & a large rock fall). There's a tantalizing glimpse of the glacier from the car park this time, although that disappears as soon as I step onto the path.

The cardboard ranger is on duty once again and today he's telling me that I can get to within 750mtrs of the glacier and it'll be a 5.4km, 1 hour 30min, return walk. 

The first kilometre of  the well formed track passes through beautiful regenerating rainforest.

The soothing sound of a babbling stream accompanies me through the bush and in the distance I can hear the rumble of a large waterfall. The glacier comes back into view...

...and so does the source of the rumble. The track narrows and this looks to be a fairly new route as we skirt around the edge of  small mound. Trees close to the path have been trimmed, chopped or pushed over the edge out of the way.

Around the next bend is a major wash out and the old path disappears over the edge of a very large rock slide into the river below. This happened back in March when 158mm of rain fell over 24hrs. Further downstream the river burst through the stopbank and flooded one of the hotels just north of the village.

Once past the new section, the track opens up and there's a clear view up the valley to the glacier. This is where those that are less nimble can walk to for a view, after which the track drops down into the river bed, crosses a side stream and weaves up the valley.

The source of the side stream are the very impressive Trident Falls which are tucked around the rock wall on the right in the above photo.

I don't have my tripod with me but manage to take a few reasonable slow shutter-speed shots to smooth the water.

The track now officially becomes a 'route', where marker posts mark the way and can change depending on what's happening to the surrounding environment. Although it still looks like a track to me. 

Far across the river I can see two swingbridges, I've zoomed in on them here but they are hardly visible from where I'm standing. They're on the Roberts Point Track, a 12.5km return tramping track for experienced and well equipped trampers, that ends high above the glacier. Just like Fox, there are plenty of warning signs about the track, a handful of tourists have lost their lives on it; either slipping down sheer rock walls or trying to take a short cut across the river.

The Waiho River is flowing fast after the recent rain; there's a person on the track ahead of me to give you some perspective.

Looking downstream, with a peep of the Trident Falls on the point.

You may have noticed that there are no photos of David ahead of, or behind me today. That's because I'm doing the walk by myself, he decided to have the day off. So I had to find myself a new subject to include in the shots and luckily this guy obliged. He didn't know it of course but I'm sure he wouldn't have minded.

And I'm always happy to include others when they helpfully appeared in frame just as I click...

The track wound it's way up...

...and down piles of rock and sediment left behind by the glacier as it's retreated.

I thought the most amazing sight, other than the glacier itself, was the huge block of ice covered in moraine...

...on the edge of the track and left behind by the retreating glacier. Slowly, slowly disappearing into the rubble.

Finally I reach the lookout where the huge terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier towers over us. Remember, it's still 750 metres away. The river flows from the terminal face through some deep scars in the rocky valley and is also joined by numerous waterfalls cascading down the vertical rock walls.

Franz Josef Glacier, at 12kms long, is just 1km shorter than Fox Glacier and is fed by a 20 square kilometre nevé (snow accumulation area), while Fox's nevé, you'll remember, is a massive 36 square kilometres.

And there's that ranger again, he does get around.

These signs are at the beginning of both the glacier walks- they obviously had a few complaints and I can see why. The constant sound of helicopters passing high overhead distracts from the spectacular and relatively peaceful landscape even though they're not that loud, more like an annoying mosquito buzzing in your ear. But it's a means to an end and many visitors enjoy the close up experience of flying over and walking on the glacier. It's also the reason drones are banned from the glacier valleys.

I did enjoy watching the helicopters fly in though and they did look just like tiny mosquitoes. This should give you an idea of how big the glacier is. That's the helicopter flying in from the right- (remember to click on the photos to enlarge)

Little red dot- centre right (now that's a wow moment, isn't it?)

I kept thinking it was surely going to hit the glacier as it moved in...

...for a closer look (both them and me)...

And then landed on the glacier where it disappeared out of sight for perhaps two minutes...

...before rising, sweeping across the rock face, up, off and out to the left... be replaced by another helicopter that either came in from the back of the glacier like this one, or followed the same route as the previous one, up the valley. A 20 minute flight, with snow landing, will set you back a cool $235 per person! There are various other longer options available, with prices to suit of course.

Cloud started to roll in over the top of the surrounding mountains and the glacier...

...and it was time to head back down the valley.

Cloud was filling the glacier valley as I passed the last lookout (or first, depending on which way you're heading). And by the time I reached the carpark, the glacier had totally disappeared. Those people that I passed, heading up the track, would have been out of luck and wondering at what they missed. Such is the fickle nature of this alpine environment.

Now which glacier would you visit if you only have time to walk to one? It's a question often asked on a travel forum I frequent. I'm afraid I can't choose one over the other, they are both stunning walks through some magnificent scenery to view two very impressive glaciers. You decide.


  1. Wonderful photos as usual - thanks so much.
    Robin and Jenny, Romany Rambler

  2. Almost as good as being their Shellie, & no sandflys, no fresh air, no exercise, but it certainly plants a seed or two. For a canny scot $235 is worth considering!
    Especially with camera on a good day.

    1. You're right Jimu, I'm still tossing up whether to take the heli flight the next time we're passing through. Although I think I'd take one that went out the back around Mt Cook rather than just the one up to the Glacier and back.

  3. Shellie, your pictorial stories simply leave me lost for words!
    The photos of the ice face and helicopter bring the glaciers size in to perspective. Unbelievable.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, glad you enjoyed the blog. It really was unbelievable seeing the tiny helicopter approaching the glacier- many people at the lookout couldn't even spot the 'copter until I pointed it out to them.

  4. BTW, we did do the chopper ride a couple of years ago and can thoroughly recommend it, money well spent.

    1. Yes, I think I'll have to do it the next time we pass through, perhaps a little longer trip out and around Mt Cook as well as the glaciers.

  5. Godfrey Constable21 July 2016 at 16:17

    The rangr that kept on getting in your pics is a very very nice"young" man by the name of Mark Martini,he grew up in Hari Hari next to us,his mother and father run the craft shop in Hari Hari "Willowws"craft shop,I believe he has moved on to greener pastures,now employed at the local Dairy Co.I believe the cut-outs of him are life-size!!!!

    1. It's a small, small world isn't it Godfrey. Here in NZ we're usually only 2 degrees removed and you have proved that once again. Thanks so much for letting me know and I can quite believe the cut-out is lifesize, they breed 'em larger than life on the Coast! :)

  6. Hi, those pictures are amazing!

    May I know when did you do the glacier walk? Thanks!

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding, I've been a a wee break. The visit was in June.


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