Two Days in Franz Josef

The Maori name of the Franz Josef Glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere, which means “Tears of Hinehukatere.” Hinehukatere was an adventurous girl who loved to climb the mountains, and her sweetheart Wawe followed her even though he wasn’t a great climber. Wawe fell to his death and Hinehukatere was devastated and her tears were frozen into the glacier.

One thing you must do in Franz Josef: begin every day with coffee and pastries at Picnics Bakery. It’s a tiny little pink building situated across the street from the i-Site visitor center, and they make the most amazing jelly doughnuts and good coffee.

Within the first few minutes of being there, I tuned into the melodious sound of the glacier’s most populous bird—the helicopter. Because the glacier has retreated so far in the last few years there is no longer a safe way to hike onto it from the valley; therefore there are now hundreds of helicopter flights each day to ferry tourists up there for a hike and then take them back down later.

The Franz Josef Glacier comparison between 2008 and 2012 (Picture from a sign I walked past).
The Franz Josef Glacier retreat: comparison between 2008 and 2012 (Picture from a sign I walked past).

Having lived on a glacier (well, technically an ice sheet) for the past 3 months I really had no desire to walk on even more ice and pay $400 for one of these popular heli-hikes.

So on Day 1, Zoe (my amazing friend who made the puppets from the South Pole) and I headed out in the early morning towards the glacier after our doughnuts from Picnics. Here I had my first experience hitchhiking (!!!) because we didn’t want to walk the 4km to the beginning of the trail. A nice older couple picked us up and proceeded to warn us that we were going to die on the trails because we didn’t have “proper tramping equipment.” They were a bit overly worried because I was in running shoes, not hiking boots, and it was annoying.

We set off on the Robert’s Point track, which took 6 hours total for us to complete with breaks for lunch and snacks and pictures. Our first sight was Peter’s Pool, which was like a mirror, beautifully reflecting the glacier and mountains.

DSC00026It was a lovely and very damp hike through the wild rainforest. The rain made for some slippery slopes, but nothing kept us from moving forward. We had to cross about four bridges, several small streams and a few old landslide areas. I felt that this trail was quite a bit easier than Ben Lomond, as it wasn’t as steep.


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At the top we had gorgeous glacier views while we ate our lunch.

DSC_0060Later on in the evening we enjoyed the Glacier Hot Pools. A nice relaxing evening!

On the second day, Zoe took off for Wanaka and I went on another kayaking excursion with Glacier Country Kayaks. It was still quite early, and the top of the glacier was cloudless. It’s kind of weird seeing a glacier and palm trees/rainforest all in one place. We kayaked on Lake Mapourika, which is the largest kettle lake in the Southern Alps. The surrounding area is the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary with one of the rarest species of kiwi, but of course the birds are nocturnal so we didn’t see any.

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It was a pretty calm kayak trip. I had my own sea kayak, which was fun. The surrounding rainforest was beautiful. I went with Glacier Country Kayaks. I think I would have had more fun with a more challenging paddle.

I got back to town around 12:30 and decided that I should go for a run, and thought that going the glacier walk might be fun. Most of the trail was through rainforest, but the last bit was a rocky trail over glacial till in the valley. When I eventually got to the glacier lookout point, I have to say that I wasn’t really impressed—but then again between Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and Antarctica I’m pretty spoiled.

Te Ara a Waiau Track to the Car Park area.
Te Ara a Waiau Track to the Car Park area.
View of the glacier from the lookout point.
View of the glacier from the lookout point.

I had actually miscalculated how far it was from my hostel to the glacier lookout and back, and it ended up being about 12 kilometers, or 7.5 miles! I finished off the day yet again at the Hot Pools for some much needed relaxation, but this time someone mistakenly took my flip-flops and so I had to walk home barefoot. Not a great end to the day, but then this Israeli guy at my hostel gave me some of his homemade shakshuka and made everything better. Sometimes you meet the nicest people in hostels!


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