New Zealand – Franz Josef: Memories from the morning after the Glacier before

Boots, socks, raincoats, gloves. Not forgetting the vital Talonz, getting ready for the tour was a task in itself.
I wish they’d added wooly hats and umbrellas to the list though. If there’s one word to describe the Franz Josef Glacier Experience it’s ‘wet’. Wet and cold…
Earlier that afternoon the tour bus had emerged out of the Kiwi sunshine into an area with the country’s second highest rainfall levels.
Now, finally, I was ready to take on the west coast’s glacial giant, Franz Josef.
Champions of the ancient glacier claim it is the world’s steepest and fastest flowing commercially guided glacier, so it seemed the perfect place for this non-climbing tourist to gain some mountain experience.
Franz Josef is accessed via a 1.6km hike through rock, shingle and sometimes over streaming water. All the time you are accompanied by the fast flowing Waiho River and the tree lined banks of the surrounding valley.
This land was previously owned by the glacier as recently as 1900, but it is slowly receding – an abiding memory of New Zealand’s last great Ice Age about 12,000 years ago.
The pale blue colouring of the glacial ice contrasts markedly with the valley green and the greys and browns of the rocky landscape and river.
Here, the ever changing New Zealand countryside has conjured up a panoramic masterpiece.
The only worry was that the hiking group I was part of were all too busy trying not to trip on the shingle to fully appreciate it.
Upon reaching old Franz himself, it was time to add the ice gripping Talonz to our boots and take to the glacier. These fantastic grips made it surprisingly easy to scale the ice, particularly as the nimble mountain guides had already carved out handy steps to clamber up.
But they couldn’t do anything about the rain, which torrented down as if someone was planning a second Noah’s Ark.
It wasn’t long before our little group was soaked to the skin, even with the protection of raincoats and gloves. Despite the scenic masterpiece, I don’t think there were many among us not dreaming of a warm bath and freshly tumble dried clothes.
The glacier itself consists of a series of steadily climbing shelves of sparkling blue ice that spreads on for miles. Our small half-day hike only touched its lower reaches, but even those were truly spectacular.
As we plunged and slid our way along, it was reminiscent of a parade of ants attacking a giant, and very cold, Fox’s Mint.
Gaping fissures in the ice and pools of near freezing water added to the hazards, and the rain continued to beat down mercilessly. Yet despite all this, the roaring waterfalls cascading down the surrounding cliff face and the pure beauty of the sparkling ice provided unbelievable views, creating a fantastic glacial experience.
Now all we had to do was get down…

> Photo: I would have loved to have shared my own pictures of Franz Josef, but some delightfully backpacker stole my camera, so instead the above picture is shared via Wikimedia Commons.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Picture by Alexander Sommer.

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