Franz Joseph Glacier Walk
“Not for the fainthearted, this track winds through a rocky riverbed. You’ll be rewarded with stunning glacier views.”
After two days, packed full of explorations, along the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we came to the part of our journey where we got to see a glacier! How exciting, and at the same time, I had to chuckle when I read the above quote from the 100% New Zealand website. Why? Well, we decided to take our 2 year old on this “not for the fainthearted” track. We had, however, done quite a bit of reading up on this track and everyone said that it wasn’t too bad
You can totally expect this from us folks – we did a big Thailand adventure while I was 6-7 month pregnant with this little guy. I had feet as swollen as sausages after a 10 hour bus ride across the Land of Smiles. You better believe it: We don’t let much slow us down!
What is a Glacier?
Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses. Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. What makes glaciers unique is their ability to move. Due to sheer mass, glaciers flow like very slow rivers. Some glaciers are as small as football fields, while others grow to be dozens or even hundreds of kilometers long.
A Chilly Hike
The weather wasn’t that great, and we were all feeling rather chilly. Our summer vacation in New Zealand had proven to be more like a fall/ winter trip, so we layered Eli up, and wrapped a thick towel around his legs. He would be experiencing this track from the comfort of his Ergo carrier – which can be great for warmth, but also cold on the legs since he was not exerting himself like we would be.
Department of Conservation
The Department of Conservation has done an amazing job of posting signs, and up keeping the tracks in New Zealand. We were very impressed with how well they took care of every touristy spots along our road trip. There wasn’t a single place where we felt lost, or uninformed.
The first 15 minutes of the Franz Josef walk are a breeze as the track winds through a simple gravel forest track. The track becomes more challenging when it reaches the rocky riverbed. As you can see below, the melted glacier water was flowing in the valley where we were going to hike. We stuck to the trodden path, which crossed over the water in a couple of locations.
We really enjoyed the informative boards along the way. As traveller who tend to learn more during, and after, our trips – we love to read as we go. It helps us really soak in our surroundings!
The rocks on each side of this ginormous riverbed were covered in thick green moss. This shows you just how damp it is in this region! The air was incredibly moist, and I am sure that the humidity was keeping that cool trapped in the valley.
As we got closer to the glacier, the clouds began to clear and we were blessed with a few patches of blue sky.
The Viewing Area
The hike finishes with a short climb to a rocky viewing area, where you can see the icy wonderlands 750 meters ahead of you. Beneath the peaceful scene, the glacier is constantly moving, with ice and rock falling without warning. At the start of the hike there is signage about whether or not it is safe to proceed. There are also signs, and a clear fence, showing where you should stop hiking. Looking up at that frozen river of ice, it almost felt like it could turn to water and wash us away at any second. There was definitely no desire, on my part, to go any further than advised!
Too Dangerous to Approach
“As of 2015, the valley walk ends at a lookout about 50 m from the main terminal face of the glacier. Since around 2012 the terminal face has become too dangerous to approach, and signs warn against crossing the safety barriers at the lookout.
An alternative option to view the glacier is via the 8 hour day hike up the 1,303 meter high Alex Knob, overlooking the Franz Josef Glacier and valley below. The path up Alex Knob is of good tramping track standard, but strenuous due to steeply climbing about 1,100 meters in height and considered “advanced” due to the duration of the hike.” –> This definitely didn’t sound like something we should do with a two year old!
~ Above Quoted from Wikipedia
That Glorious BLUE!
While clouds were covering the glacier, it didn’t look as amazing as we had imagined it would. A few other people had sat down at the viewing station, so we thought that we would wait around too. Sure enough, our patience paid off, and the clouds above the glacier blew away. We got to witness the most incredible blue, not only in the sky, but shining through the glacial ice too. It was quite an incredible sight!
Why is glacier ice blue?
“Glacial ice is a different color from regular ice. It is blue because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue – so blue is what we see! Sometimes the glacial ice appears almost turquoise. Its crystalline structure strongly scatters blue light. The ice on a glacier has been there for a really long time and has been compacted down so that its structure is pretty different from the ice you normally see. Glacial ice is a lot different from the frozen water you get out of the freezer.” ~ Source of Quote
The Franz Josef Glacier has both retreated and grown since 2001, but its most recent retreat of 800 meters, between 2011 and 2014, is the fastest on record. Mid-latitude valley glaciers like Franz Josef are very sensitive to local and global climate, acting as an indicator of climatic change.
After hiking back to our car, we drove a little further to see the Fox Glacier. We viewed it from an opening in some trees, but because it was getting much cooler and the light was beginning to dim, we knew that we should get back on the road. We still had a long way to go before we could rest that night. What we didn’t know then was that we would be spending the night in our car!