One of the activities that I had set my mind on doing during my holiday in New Zealand was to walk on a glacier.  I have seen snow and done some skiing but I’ve never been anywhere near a glacier.  From documentaries that I’ve seen, they seemed so untamed  and over-whelming.  So I was a bit apprehensive yet very excited to see a glacier as we get closer to the World Heritage Area of the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  Located within this area of temperate rainforest of ancient trees and evergreens is the Franz Josef Glacier.  

Franz Josef Glacier is about 7,000 years old and is a relic from the last ice age.  The amazing fact about this glacier is that although most of the earth’s glaciers are retreating due to global warming, Franz Josef Glacier is still advancing.  The glacier flow is close to sea level and is only about 19 kilometers away from the coast.  As such this is one of the most accessible glacier, which is good news to me. This certainly debunk my earlier perception that I have to get through treacherous and winding mountain roads to get to a glacier.
 
I was traveling with a group of four friends and as soon as we got into Franz Josef town, we checked out the many certified glacier guides.   As we found out, there are a number of ways to see the glacier, such as from a helicopter ride, hike or for the more adventurous and fit, to actually climb (like in rock climbing) up the icy surfaces.  We chose the half day hike and booked ourselves for the trip that starts the next morning.

Early the next morning, we met up with our guide at his shop and we were each supplied with a pair of special hiking boots with spikes at the front for better grip when walking on the glacier.  A short drive from town through lush green rainforest took us to the starting point for our hike to the glacier.

The change in landscape was dramatic.  In contrast to the earlier pristine rainforest we started our hike from what looked like a dried up riverbed with rocks and pebbles strewn all the way.
 
 
 
 

This “riverbed” was created when the Franz Josef glacier first retreated but it has since been advancing again. By the edge of the “riverbed”, waterfall cascades down the steep face of the hills. Just after about 10 minutes walk the terminal face of the glacier looms ahead of us. From far it looked like a smooth river of ice but as we got closer it became a mountain of ice towering above us, making us insignificant in comparison.

 
 
 

At the base of the glacier, the ice grottos were blue in colour and icicles hang down from its roof as the ice melts.  Although there is a huge mountain of ice in front of us, we do not feel the cold as we were already warmed up by our 10 minutes walk to get to the base.  We quickly changed into our hiking boots for our ascent up the steep and slippery slope of the glacier.

We were first taught how to use the spikes at the front of our boots to kick into the ice to get a good grip when we are walking up the icy surfaces.  We followed our guide and started our hike up through a crevice in the glacier.  The feeling was exhilarating and surreal as we walked between the walls of blue ice.  We made our way through the crevice in single file and clamoured up the steep slopes to get to the top of the glacier.  At certain places, we had to walk on narrow ridges where only one person at a time can pass through.  The icy landscape was stark and beautiful, with mini ice peaks along the way. Where the slope was steep and where it appeared that there is no passage to proceed, our guide would expertly cut some steps into the ice with his ice pick for us to walk through.  I felt a bit guilty though.  Might we be destroying and causing the glacier to melt faster?
 
 
 
 
 
 
                 
   
 
 
     
   

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