One of the most brilliant places to go any time of year is New Zealand.   The North Island of New Zealand made my Top 12 Places I’ve Been To That I Recommend For You list, specifically the region between Rotorua and Tongariro National Park.  This post takes a look at one of my trips to the South Island, in particular Franz Josef Glacier.

My stop at Franz Josef was a random, “Lets go there tomorrow,” as we toured through the South Island for a couple weeks.  We ended up staying two nights and three days at Franz Josef (then we had to get back to Christchurch quickly for our international flight home boo hoo).

Exploring Glaciers

I have explored four glaciers – all wonderful and all offering different experiences.  I previously wrote about exploring Mendenhall Glacier in the Juneau Ice Fields of Alaska, getting to the top by helicopter.  If you get a chance to be on a glacier (or even walk or boat up to the face of one) by all means do it.  Trust me your jaw will drop.

For full disclosure, this trip was a number of years ago, and very soon afterwards the operators stopped offering walks ending in ice climbs, as the terminal face of this glacier is now unstable.   You can either hike the valley (amazing) or take a helicopter to a point high up on the glacier for ice walks and exploration (triple amazing).

So enjoy the following pictures and think about adding New Zealand and Franz Josef to your bucket list.

Exploring Franz Josef

The first stop in any glacier exploration for a novice is to get oriented and in particular get your crampons.

The town of Franz Josef
The charming town of Franz Josef
Franz Josef crampons
Wearing layers with crampons in hand.  You can not explore a glacier without crampons.

Then off to the glacier starting with meeting our guide and a hike through the glacial valley formed by fluvial and glacial erosion.

The guide striking a pose, glacier in background
Our guide with the Franz Josef glacier in the background.  We hiked to the glacier then climbed on the face (no longer permitted or wise).
Franz Josef Getting closer
Getting closer and shedding layers along the way
Franz Josef Glacier Valley
Looking back down to where we came from.
Franz Josef worth the risk
Especially now, please take these signs seriously.  There is a difference between adventurous and stupid.

Once we got to the face of the glacier it was time to explore on the ice.  If you go today, you have to take a helicopter much higher up in the glacier, but the experience is similar (actually it is way better).

Yup, we are going to go down there next
Using ropes to guide us
Franz Josef Going out
Cutting through
Glacier is a moving mix of ice and stone that gets
The glacial ice isn’t ‘dirty’ but it looks like this because it the ice has picked up (and crushed) so many rocks as it flows to the bottom.
Glad it did not cave in
Coming out of an ice tunnel

When exploring a glacier, you really needs to be heads up constantly.  Believe me you do not want to fall into an ice hole or a crevice.  The glacier basically has a river running under it.  When we were by a hole or crevice we could hear the water rushing underneath.

And finally one of the coolest parts was going through an ice tunnel.  I gave my camera to the person in front of me to take a picture of me coming out the other end.  We were told to always go through sideways (less chance of getting stuck).  The larger people had to go around.

Franz Josef I fit through
Coming out the other end of a narrow ice tunnel

Logistics of Franz Josef

We explored the glacier using Franz Josef Glacier Guides who were great about everything.

If you want a beautiful nearby lodge in the temperate forest, check out Punga Grove Motel and Suites.  Wonderful.

Punga Grove our room had a patio that sat on the e
The back porch of our hotel room in a temperate rain forest.

Final Thoughts on Franz Josef

  • When you go, explore beyond the big tourist towns like Queenstown or Christchurch (although both are wonderful).
  • For northern hemisphere friends, remember that in the southern hemisphere, winter is summer and summer is winter.  (Like going to Bondi Beach in February)
  • Meet the locals – they are wonderful, friendly, and warmly greeted us everywhere.
  • The best way to get around if you are going to more than one or two places is to rent a car – but remember when driving, walking, or biking that in New Zealand they drive on the opposite side of the road as the United States and Europe drivers do.

New Zealand is pretty far away for people who live in North America.  I have been a number of times and love it each and every time.  It seems like the kind of destination many dream of going to but few (from North America) actually go.

“Travel is never a matter of money but of courage”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph