In 2005 my Dad and I headed over from Australia to the south island of New Zealand to hike the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier was named by German explorer Julius von Haast in 1865 after the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. Up until 2008 the glacier was still advancing but sadly since then the ice has begun to retreat.
The Franz Josef Glacier is unusual as it borders on a temperate rain forest and is quite close to the coast. You normally picture them as being high up on mountains but to get to this glacier you hike through the forest then make your way up the relatively steep but low altitude rocky mountain trail to get on the ice (300 metres / 980 ft above sea level). You have to move quickly through part of this trail though as it often experiences rock falls from above!
The hike was an adventurous one that lasted most of the day and was a somewhat dangerous yet amazing journey. Cutting steps in untouched ice, stepping on slippery and sometimes thin ice, squeezing through huge slabs of ice and crossing over crevasse after crevasse was a real rush! Especially when the guides tell you the landscape of the glaciers ice can change on a daily basis (you just have to hope your are not in an ice cave or the like at the time)!
What a day it was up on the glacier! How could we top that? Well we did come up with a way. The next morning we took a helicopter flight over the glacier in a Hughes 500 helicopter. I have to say flying was a good idea. During the glacier hike we used muscles in our legs to climb that ice that we possibly had never used before. Despite some physical training in the weeks leading up to the hike we could barely walk the next day!
Despite being on the glacier for around 9 hours the day before the flight soon highlighted to us how little distance we had actually covered during the hike! The Franz Josef Glacier is massive!
It was a beautiful sight flying over the glacier along with the surrounding mountains and snow fields. The flight was a great experience and gave us a whole new perspective of the glacier.
We then had an added highlight. The pilot expertly landed the helicopter on an untouched snow field high above the glacier.
It was a winter wonderland up there. The scenery and overall experience was hard to beat. What a day!