Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

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.

Franz Josef Glacier NZ
Our first glimpse of the glacier as we entered the valley

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!

Heading up the rocky trail Franz Josef Glacier NZ
Heading up the rocky trail
the edge of the base of Franz Josef Glacier NZ
On the edge of the base of Franz Josef Glacier
temperate rainforest Franz Josef Glacier NZ
Looking back at where we had hiked in through the temperate rain forest

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)!

Franz Josef Glacier NZ
OK well lets head on in!
Franz Josef Glacier Hike in New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier Hike in New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier NZ
We are heading up there
Franz Josef Glacier NZ
Dad taking a break
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Lets get going
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Up and up through the ice
Franz Josef Glacier Hike in New Zealand
Squeezing through a crack in the ice of the glacier!
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Thick Ice
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Ice, Ice Baby
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Spectacular!
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Amazing mountain scenery surrounds the glacier
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
After a while we split into smaller groups – I joined the adventurous one
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
Ever upwards
Franz Josef Glacier hike NZ
The ice takes on varying hues
Franz Josef Glacier NZ
One last look at the glacier before heading back to the township of Franz Josef

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!

Hughes 500 NZ
Hughes 500

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!

Franz Josef Glacier from the air NZ
Franz Josef Glacier

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.

The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
The Southern Alps
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Above the glacier
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Looking back towards the coast
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Snow patterns
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Over the glacier
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
At the top of Franz Josef Glacier
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Stunning
The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Don’t want to go back down

We then had an added highlight. The pilot expertly landed the helicopter on an untouched snow field high above the glacier.

Hughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
What an amazing place to land!
Hughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
The early morning sun glistens
Hughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Virgin snow
Hughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Pristine
Hughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Getting up to such an amazing location in the Southern Alps by helicopter was quite an experience

It was a winter wonderland up there. The scenery and overall experience was hard to beat. What a day!

ughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
Heading back to the township of Franz Josef
ughes 500 flight The Southern Alps Franz Josef Glacer New Zealand
The adventure ends
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