"The Glacier Country - Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers" Franz Josef Glacier by Martialsk
Franz Josef Glacier Travel Guide: 127 reviews and 397 photos
Back on the road with the Glacier Country in sight. Following the West Coast down was a treat and a half!
This is a truly exceptional place, and must rate as one of my favourite places on this island and definitely up there in the Top 3 of the little bit of the world I have seen already.
Fox Glacier at 13km long and Franz Josef at 12km long are unique in that they descend from the lofty heights of approx 2,600m up the Southern Alps to less than 300m above sea-level, amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest. Fox is fed from 4 alpine glaciers and Franz from a 20km long snowfield.
The landscape, dotted with kettle lakes such as Lake Matheson and Mapourika, left behind by these retreating glaciers is quite beautiful…but it rains a lot. A lot. An enormous amount…and we were camping…of course! I guess the time had finally arrived to test how waterproof our tent was…
And whether we’d be lucky enough to see a vast chunk of ice amidst the rain, mist and murk.
My other half, considering that he was yet to give me a Christmas present, quite randomly suggested that I take a helicopter ride over the Glaciers. I was so excited! Firstly, I’ve never been in a helicopter and secondly, I’ve never been to the top of a large mountain that is perpetually covered in ice! I have no intention of ever climbing mountains so this would be as good as it would ever get!
Saying that, maybe part of the excitement was knowing that we weren’t going to walk to the Franz Josef Terminal Face which is at least 1.5hrs one-way walk through rainforests in sheets of rain…because rainforests, surprisingly enough, rain a lot. I love to walk and on a normal day, can comfortably walk 10km+…but I’m not good with rain and the soggy feeling that it gives me…soft? Yes. I know this...
On the day that he thought of this fabulous idea, the weather had been glorious and we could easily see the alpine glaciers from our campsite…but when it came to actually booking the ride, I waited 2 days for the weather to clear…
And the rain came down and the clouds stayed low. We did absolutely nothing except sit the pub that had wi-fi or sit at 'home' doing diddly-squat. There is little to do here unless you really fancy getting wet. I wouldn’t have minded a horse-trek…but he doesn’t like horses, the heli-ride was burning holes in various credit cards and I don’t have comfy waterproofed clothes for horse-riding…oh, and it was wet…like, all the time wet…
Our tent withstood the rain with ease…we, on the other hand, did not and for the third (unexpected) night, we switched to a cabin. Funnily enough, the rain vacated that day. Well, isn’t that just typical?! We only stayed in Franz on that last night because the heli-ride had been deferred to early the following morning (our 11th hour) and then we wanted to hit the road quickly because we had a long driving day ahead of us to get to Wanaka.
However, in all our free time, we met a local with whom we chatted for a while. Well, he wasn’t a true local - I think we’d have been hard-pressed to meet one of those...rare as sabre-toothed tigers in these parts as they shy away from civilisation and tourists! Anyway, he was a local, considering he’d lived in Franz for over 10years. He laughed at us when we grumbled about the incessant rain…before informing us that it hardly rains in the winter season and that although its cold and icy and the mountains are completely snowed over, the skies are blue and the air clear…almost every single day, the view from his front garden is Franz Josef Glacier. It doesn’t rain. Well, lets just say this sounded rather like heaven to me…I think I’m going to have come back in the winter time to do a spot of quad-biking, horse-riding and short day-walks in the blue-sky glacier country…
The helicopter ride was go! I’d only waited two days and the staff at the office knew me well by now!
What an exciting thing to do! It was that perfect blue-sky day with only a few scattered clouds about. Up we went. The helicopters cannot fly into cloud for obvious reasons…so if there is but a wisp near a mountain side, the trip would be in jeopardy. This is why we had constant cancellations.
So exhilarating. So sublime. There are no words to describe how I felt when we flew up over Franz and over into ‘The Twins’ - the snowfield behind Mt Cook from where Franz Glacier begins its downward journey to sea-level. The captain hovered only a few metres above the glaciers so that we could get a really good look at the crevices, sharp jagged ridges, huge bottomless holes and random waterfalls within and around the ice.
We were allowed 5 mins on the Twins snowfield to walk around, touch the ice and take some pictures. The scale is quite impossible to define. The helicopters are but a tiny smidge on this huge slab of ice and you’d barely see people! Thinking we’d be up there in the freezing cold, we’d all layered up…well, I regretted that in about 2 minutes flat because it was pretty hot up there and the sun was just beating down on us. The ice wasn’t melting though! I had to kick as hard as I could with my boot to release just a couple of ice crystals so that I could hold them. Those little crystals froze my fingers and didn’t even have the good grace to melt for me before I returned them to their rightful owner!
We were at least 2,600m above sea level and not very far from Mt Cook - NZ’s highest mountain at 3,754m above sea level. The mountain also lies in the centre of the Alpine Fault line - a 650km long active fault that was responsible for the uplift of these mountains in the first place and is reputed to uplift the mountain at an average of 7mm/year. The heli-experience was just incredible and has to be the most awesome thing I’ve ever done!
Feeling euphorically high, we jumped in the car and left Franz Josef. The last time we were here, we had stayed a night in a hovel and didn’t stick around to get to know the place because we were on a timer and had to keep moving. This is the one place we’ve spent the longest time at so far on this journey and I can safely say that I will be back someday.
- Pros:incredible scenery
- Cons:weather...it rains a lot; expensive
- In a nutshell:Incredible...
Martialsk's Related Pages
Franz Josef Glacier Travel Guide
Member Travel Pages
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