Hiking New Zealand – Franz Josef Glacier

No matter how long I stood on our hotel balcony nor how many times I look at this photograph, I still can’t get over the crazy juxtaposition of palm trees and glacial ice!
We drove 8 hours from Queenstown to the very small, adventure tourist-oriented town of Franz Josef in Westland Tai Poutini National Park mainly for the chance to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier.

When we arrived to check in with Franz Josef Glacier Guides we learned that no helicopters had gone up for the past three days due to low cloud and rain. Crowds of tourists milled about, hoping to make it up onto the glacier that morning.

Talk about extreme good luck! As our scheduled departure time neared, the light rain stopped and the cloud cover started to break up, so we completed the computerized check-in procedure, swapped our own hiking boots for sturdier boots, thick boots and a sling pack with just enough room that we could tuck a bottle of water and a spare camera battery or two and then joined the other folks in our group to wait our turn in one of the two helicopters that flew us all up to the glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier viewed from Sentinel Rock, one of several walking trails and tracks you can choose from if you’d like to explore the area around the glacier on foot.



Looking down on the glacier to the valley below from the helicopter.

As soon as our helicopter touched down in the designated landing zone, our guide helped everyone out and then we waited for the rest of our hiking group to arrive. I didn’t do a count at the time, but family consensus is that the total number in our group was 11 people.

Our guide, Andy, gave some safety instructions before we started to explore the glacier.

We were all careful to follow the route established by Andy, who stopped frequently to use his pick to create steps in the ice or to do a little route-finding. We took every opportunity to take photographs.

Pillars of blue-green ice form a line below the ridge on one side of the glacier.
One of the fellows hiking with us agreed to take a family photo for us just below the spot where the glacier creeps over the top of the mountain. Several times while we were exploring the glacier, chunks of rock broke loose and fell from the section of bare rock to the left of where we’re standing.
Mr. GeoK was hoping we’d get a lot closer to the waterfall just to the right of the top section of ice,. And we did. But unfortunately for him, the closer we got, the worse the line of sight, so this is the best photo of the melt-waterfall he came back with.

One of the features of the glacier we most enjoyed photographing was the compression fractures.

Here’s a compression fracture in context.
A closer look at one compression fracture.
And this compression fracture was unusual in that it was really two fractures that have merged together with one pillar of ice still standing at the front of the hollow.

Franz-Josef-GlacierBefore we made our way back to the helicopter landing zone, Andy offered everyone a chance to pose with his pick. About half the group took him up on the offer, including half of our family!

We waited quite a while for the helicopter to pick us up. This isn’t “normal”. But the chief pilot and other key personnel were assessing the afternoon weather situation and eventually made the call that the helicopters wouldn’t fly in the afternoon due to increasing, low-hanging cloud cover. As a result, our guide flew out with us, which made us appreciate all over again just how lucky our timing was.


After a pretty bad lunch (again, we should have consulted online reviews before choosing a place), we decided to get out of the rain with a soak at the glacier hot pools (included in the price of our heli-hike). It was busy, but still relaxing. And we couldn’t help but overhear a bunch of the conversations going on all around us, mainly between young adults who were touring New Zealand by bus, staying in hostels and eating mostly at the grocery stores. The biggest line item in their travel budgets? Chasing adventure!

9 thoughts on “Hiking New Zealand – Franz Josef Glacier

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  4. Wow! Stunning photos of an awesome adventure! The photos of the compression fractures are so gorgeous.
    On another note, may I ask what settings you use in WordPress to set your last two photos off to the sides and have your text wrap around them? I really like that feature, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to use it yet.

    1. Hi Alison and thanks for stopping by. Those compression fractures were completely amazing.

      as for the smaller photos with the wrapped text, when adding media I select medium size, in the right or left position. When I put the image at the start of the paragraph and just start typing the text right after the closing > or ]. WordPress automatically does the wrapping.

      1. Cool! Thanks for the tip. I’ll to give it a try. What a marvelous trip you had. New Zealand is at the very top of our travel list, but a difficult destination for us teachers because we can’t get away for long enough at the ideal time to be there. We will make it some day, but, until then, we will enjoy living vicariously through your adventures. Cheers!

    1. Despite the fact that many of our Canadian friends thought we were crazy for doing this (it’s pretty similar to some of the activities we can do at home in the Canadian Rockies), it was definitely worth experiencing the rain forest and palm tree vs. glacier contrast, which can only be done a couple of places in the world. You’re right – it was awesome!

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