The town of Franz Josef, like Queenstown, has a love affair with adventure sports. For $350 you can take a flight in a single-engine Cessna to view both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, landing on the glacier for a bit of ice hiking in the middle of the flight. You can also do this in a helicopter for slightly less money. Or, if flying is not your thing, for around $225 you can strap talons (metal spikes) onto your shoes and do a half or all-day hike on the glacier, following a most-excellent guide who will carve steps in the ice with a pick axe so you can clamber up the sheer faces of the glacier. You can skydive over the glacier, kayak down the icy rapids spawned by the glacier, or go rock climbing on the walls of the glacier-carved valleys. And on and on, ad infinitum. None of this was for me. Instead, I decided to avail myself of the many hiking trails that the Department of Conservation maintains in and around the glacier.
The previous night I had taken a short trail to the top of Sentinel Hill for a distant view of the glacier, as well as a second ‘End of the Forest’ trail that took me to the edge of the river valley leading to the foot of the glacier. Although the information sign at the trail head indicated that this was also the access to the ‘Foot of the Glacier Trail,’ when I reached the river bank my way was barred by a fence with a sign, warning that only experienced hikers or persons with guides should proceed further. I asked the shuttle driver about this and he explained that the trail had been washed out by flooding in places, but that it was perfectly fine to climb through the fence and hike to the glacier. So I did.
Twin waterfalls on the way to the foot of the Franz Josef glacier
I have seen glaciers before. In Canada I visited the glacier at Jasper National Park, where we were driven onto the ice floe by the bus load and allowed to walk around within a small roped-off area – a hundred people at time slipping and sliding into each other in the freezing cold. But I have never experienced Continue reading