The only other activity I didn’t have to think about booking when I decided on Australia was the Glacier Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier. One of the few glaciers in the world which is accessible and the only one that is surrounded by a temperate rainforest. We would be flown up by helicopter land on the glacier then get to walk around in and on it before being flown down. I wasn’t 100% sure which part I was more excited about the helicopter ride or exploring the glacier. Unfortunately, the West Coast weather followed us from Westport and blanketed Franz Josef in a low lying fog. We arrived the night before our tours were booked so while that days tours had been cancelled we all had our fingers and toes crossed that the weather would clear by morning.
When I woke there was a wee triangle of sunshine but it disappeared by the time we all made it to the visitor centre and found out our tours were cancelled. The disappointment was palpable and while a week later the danger of flying into cloud and adverse weather conditions in a helicopter became apparent when a helicopter crashed on Fox Glacier with all hands lost it didn’t help at the time. The only positive was that we were guaranteed a 100% refund and there were still a few options to get us “close” to the glacier. A 6-8hr hike through the forest to a look off point but we didn’t have the time for that. A guided walk through the glacier valley to a look off point around 250m from the base of the glacier or a self guided walk through the valley and lastly jump off the bus and stay for a day or so and hope the weather would change favourably. I didn’t have days to spare so this was my only chance to get as close as possible and see my first glacier. I decided on doing the guided walk with Claire, Jack, Andy and Virgina. We were kitted out with incredibly attractive rain pants and jacket and a little orange beanie, put on a rather old school bus, and taken to the drop off point to start the walk.
The self guided walk and the guided walk pretty much follow the same route through the valley minus the guided walk goes through the woods for a bit and there are different viewing points however both I believe are the same distance away from the base of the glacier which does make the cost a bit cheeky. However, saying all that the weather wasn’t very nice at the end so I was very grateful for my waterproofs. Also, we got hot chocolate and tea at the top but above that if you are interested in the history of the glacier, the guide makes the cost worth while. His enthusiasm for the job and the glacier flowed out of him and was evident in his knowledge of the area. He explained the local fauna, introduced us to the Kea – the only alpine parrot, the geology and history of the glacier. Along the path there were several markers and information boards showing images of how much the glacier has receded over the years. The difference between 2008 and 2012 to this year was incredible. If one had any doubt of global warming well it would be hard to ignore after seeing that. They predict that in less than our lifetime the Franz Josef glacier will cease to exist.
The walk through the valley is ruggedly beautiful with rocks everywhere which were dropped by the glacier, waterfalls coming down the side of the valley with water so clean you can drink from the pools and then finally after a bit of scramble you are 250m away from the glacier. It was huge and much dirtier than I imagined but above the clouds the sheer whiteness of the ice and snow gleamed under the sun and the ghostly blue that you associate with the inside of the glacier peaked through the crevices. It was pretty impressive.
So, although I missed out on my glacier moment, ice pick in hand, I did get a hat and see an amazing part of nature. Climbing a glacier is now officially on my bucket list. We headed back to town, dry, satisfied but a little chilled. The cost of the walk also included access to the glacier hot pools and what better way to get rid of our chills than to relax in hot steaming baths that leave you less like a boiled egg than my Rotorura thermal spa experience. Relaxing and surrounded by a rainforest it was a great way to spend a late afternoon which I then followed with the perfect comfort meal of tomato soup and cheesy garlic rolls. All that coupled with the fresh mountain air left me sleeping like a baby, waking up refreshed and ready to head onto Wanaka. As we pulled out of Franz Josef I couldn’t but help be secretly pleased that the weather was still uncooperative knowing that I wasn’t missing my chance that day to get up the glacier