We arrived in Franz Josef in the early afternoon and we could not get over how stunning the area was. The town was tiny with a small selection of shops and restaurants; most impressive however were the huge snow-capped mountains which towered over the town. I think I must have taken a million photos of the views!
Guy took us across to Sentinal Rock which, after a short hike, gave us the most impressive view out over the famous Franz Josef Glacier.
In Maori Franz Joseph Glacier is called ‘Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere’ this literally translates to ‘tears of the avalanche girl’. Maori legend dictates that Hine Hukatere (the Avalanche girl) was an adventurous Maori woman who loved mountaineering above all other activities. Her lover, Tawe, was not as fond of climbing as his sweetheart but Hine’s powers of persuasion were strong and Tawe often climbed with her in the mountains. On one such adventure Tawe slipped at the head of the valley and plunged to his death. Hine’s tears were so many that they flooded the valley and were frozen by the Gods as a memorial to her grief.
After spending some time admiring the glacier from afar we got back into the bus and made our way to our accommodation – the Rainforest Retreat. This hostel was definitely one of the nicest of the places we’ve stayed in so far – the girls and I paid a little extra to have our own little log cabin complete with hottub for the next couple of days. It was incredible.
That evening we went to hostel bar for unlimited pizza and a couple of drinks. The prizes for the costume party the night before were given out (all I’ll say is that I was robbed). The next morning we had to wake up at 6am so the plan was to have an early night ready for the busy day ahead. Turns out that didn’t really happen…For some reason Brea and I decided it would be a good idea to head back to the hostel bar where we bumped into Guy. Brie and I ended up crawling back into bed at 4.30am after staying up and watching Jackass and eating rice cakes at Guy’s. That was not the plan!
The next morning after oh, maybe an hour and a half sleep, we peeled ourselves out of bed and got ready for a trip out to the glacier. In recent years, as a result of global warming, the glacier has retreated rather significantly now to the point that it is only accessible by helicopter. To put it in perspective, when Miles went travelling 10 years ago you could walk up to the glacier – scientists believe that the glacier may be completely melted by the year 2020. It’s likely that our generation’s children will never be able to visit the glacier.
Due to the requirement of helicopters the glacier hike is completely weather dependent and apparently only 25% of hikes now take place as the helicopters physically cannot climb the mountains due to strong winds. We therefore weren’t holding out much hope for our trip taking place but luckily the gods were on our side and the weather was beautiful!
We got all suited in booted in our snow suits, boots and crampons and boarded the helicopter. It was my first ever time on a helicopter and it didn’t disappoint – it was amazing. Although I must admit landing directly on the ice of the glacier was a little unnerving.
When we arrived on the glacier we met our guide who gave us a bit of a safety briefing and told us the wrong and the right ways to walk on the ice. Soon we grabbed our walking sticks and we were off!
We hiked the glacier for about two and a half hours. The scenery was completely stunning with bright blue ravines and tunnels. The glacier is constantly moving and melting so new tracks are formed everyday by the guides. A new tunnel had just opened that day so our guide took us through it. The tunnel was the narrowest thing I have ever squeezed myself through, literally my nose was touching the ice in front of me – it not surprising our guide told us not to go through if we were claustrophobic – I even found it a little scary.
When we reached the top of the glacier we took the time to take some photos and fill up our water bottles from the glacial streams.
Soon we made our way back down the glacier. Of course I fell over, kicked myself with my spikey boots and am now sporting a huge bruise which covers the whole of my right calf. Brilliant. Wouldn’t be a good excursion for me if I didn’t end up with some sort of injury.
We got back on board the helicopter and made our way back down to earth. We were exhausted but loved every moment of the hike. Even on two hours sleep. It was amazing.
That afternoon Brea and I headed to one of the local restaurants called Snakebite for delicious Thai food before having a quick disco nap and catching up on some well deserved sleep.
That evening we of course couldn’t resist another night out so hit the bar with the group for lots of drinks and dancing.
The next morning, up bright and early again, Guy drove us to a great view point where we could look back over Fox Glacier – the other main glacier in the region – it was beautiful.
We then took a short walk around Mirror Lake (Lake Matheson) to enjoy the views. The lake, as a result of decomposing plant life, has a tea-like colour about it. When the water is still it gives the most brilliant reflection of the mountain range (Mt Cook and Mt Tasman) which surround it – hence the name mirror lake.
Unfortunately the wind was a little strong on our visit to be able to see a perfect mirror image – but you get the picture.
Having enjoyed our little hike and, of course, the beautiful scenery, we headed back and made our way down to Ship Creek.