I awoke early on a warm January morning. The sun rose, coloring
the sky with washes of pinks and oranges. The streets were deserted apart from a
few intrepid travelers who were heading towards the Franz Joseph glacier store.
It was from here that our adventure began. Backpackers gathered eagerly, waiting
for an experience of a life time. Kit was handed out, tried on, adjusted and
packed up, along with personal belongings. Jackets, boots, crampons, all
carrying the Franz Josef logo, were passed around with excitement and
apprehension. On the advice of a guide I reluctantly donned my shorts, worrying
slightly about frost bite. Apparently jeans can easily become
water logged and stick to your legs, making you more likely to
Franz Joseph is a picturesque little township on the west coast of
New Zealand’s south island. Backpackers flock there to experience a day of
hiking on the glacier. Snow melt runs off the glacier, creating a cloudy blue
river, which trundles past the town. The glacier, named after Franz Joseph I
emperor of Austria in 1865 is 12km long. It is located in the Westland Tai
Poutini National Park amid lush temperate rainforest.
We all boarded the red glacier guide bus, which took
the winding roads to the beginning of the trek. Excitement ran through the group
as we were given an initial briefing by Iain who would be our guide for the
We tramped through the lush New Zealand rainforest.
Palm trees and ferns overhung the muddy track. Native birds such as fantails and
robins flitted along beside us, singing their happy songs. Somewhere in the
distance a babbling stream could be heard. On emerging from the forest we
crossed the shingled wasteland to the foot of the glacier. The stones appeared
to be speckled with gold dust which glittered as the sun’s rays caught them. Water ran off the glacier in cascades and flowed to the main
river, churning up silt as it went. The mass of ice towered above us, simmering
blue in the morning sunlight. Small groups of hikers traversed the ice, like
ants in the distance.
The group gathered at a sign which warned people not to climb on
the ice without a guide. A single red rope, barred our entry, horror stories
about individuals who had ignored the warnings circulated. People took photos.
We waited for further instructions, staring up at the glacier in
After being split into smaller groups we crossed the threshold and
tramped onto the glacier, a mixture of grit and ice crunched beneath our boots.
We trundled on, pausing to catch our breath as the slope got steeper and
steeper. Iain advised us to put on our crampons. Knots were tied and retied;
tight enough to hold without cutting off the circulation. Then apprehensively we
stamped our feet, testing each step, checking that our boots gripped the
For the rest of the day we explored tunnels, crevasses and ice
caves. The glacial landscape changes almost daily with the glaciers unusually
fast flow. There was a huge gap in the ice; where the glacier had cracked and
shifted slightly, making a crevice for us to explore. Inside the ice was dense;
the giant blue sides loomed above us, creating a shadowy pocket. The air was
freezing, our breath turned to mist and the blueness of the ice was reflected in
our faces. We all piled into the small space, squeezed around corners and
climbed over chunks of broken ice. I was wearing a rucksack on my back; the red
glacier guides bum bag on my front, contained my lunch. We had come to the
narrowest part of the tunnel. My cargo doubled my size, making me momentarily
stuck between the icy walls.