Ice Age – Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand Trip #8

April 29, 2011 at 12:34 am | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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We only reached Franz Josef in the afternoon to check into the motel. Though we knew that the guided tours to the glacier are very popular, we didn’t pre-book online as we weren’t sure of our timing. But luckily we din book any…cos I started to feel sick the day before…probably caught a cold at Kaikoura while looking at the birds and waiting for sunset.. 😦 Nevertheless, we decided to try our luck at the Visitor Centre, but were told only the longer tour trips which required higher fitness level, and cost much more, were still available. It didn’t come as a surprise given that the place was a very popular tourist spot, but I was still feeling very disappointed. My temperature was still quite high so it was not wise to join the group.  After a short rest, we decided to go explore on our own as we read that the walk towards the glacier terminal face was quite accessible.

Climate and topography have combined in Westland Tai Poutini National Park to create 140 glaciers within an area of 200 square kilometres. The Franz Josef Glacier is one of the largest. A glacier is a huge moving mass of old winter snow compressed to ice, descending down valley about 100,000 times slower than a river.

From the carpark, we could already see the beautiful view…

Three walks begin here…

But they changed the first walk from 50 minutes one way to 1 hr 30 min return…

This way please….


We passed through these temperate vegetation…

…before reaching here to get a first glimpse of the glacier…

Information from the signage

“The glacier has a wide block of land at its head. This can hold massive
amount of snow and ice, all year round. Ice is squeezed into a very narrow,
steep valley. Because the valley is so narrow, the ice is able to funnel
a long way down into a temperate forest zone.” 

If ice melts from the lower glacier faster than ice accumulates in the upper glacier (or névé), the glacier will retreat. If ice melts from the lower glacier slower than ice accumulates in the névé, the glacier will advance.

According to the sign, “Despite small advances about every 20 years, the
glacier has generally retreated for most of the last century. However,
over the last 25 year, the glacier has been in a state of advancement.”
At the top right side, a 1867 photo showed the ice was close to the base at
Sentinel Rock. In 1939 – 49, a lake remained in front of the glacier, and
tourists had to row a boat amongst icebergs to gain access as shown
on the right third picture! So romantic! Hahaha…

Tisu Boy couldn’t wait to get closer…These rocks formed a bridge for
crossing over when the water level is higher…There were colourful
sign posts to guide you along

Small waterfalls at the right…

The crimson coloured forest in summer is native Rata, sometimes called
the South Island Christmas Trees. It flowers in a seasonal wave, starting
on the lower slopes in late November and finishing on the upper slopes
in February, as seen in our picture. The retreating glacier creates ideal
conditions for Rata to spread in the mineral soil which is rocky, thin and

Lichens, mosses, shrubs and trees take hundreds of years to recolonise
ice-scoured rocks… 

There were many of these stones stacked on top of another at every little

The terminal face looked near but seemed so far also…took forever to reach it…probably also because we stopped for photos here and there…

Look at the size of people…we had a long way to go…

Folks with deep pockets can opt to fly over the glacier in a chopper…

Rocks are on the move around here, with a rock slide on December 1997
burying part of the access road and car park

We were lucky cos the sky cleared for a brief moment and we were able
to catch a glimpse of the summit… 

There…finally we reached the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier…How
I wished I could hop over to touch it!

But beyond this point was no entry unless you were in a guided group as
there was danger of icefall and rockfall here. I
n February 2007, two tourists
were injured after being hit by falling ice when they ventured too close.
Even with experienced guide, mishap could also happen as Mother Nature
is so unpredictable. In June 2010, an Australian tourist died during a guided
hike of the glacier. When we were there we saw a couple of guided groups with
gears going in…so envious! Should have booked one! 😦 I miss the snowy
mountain landscape… 

Melted water from the glacier formed the Waiho River here. The Waiho is
wild and unpredictable, as it can rise and change course within minutes,
and can tumble huge boulders or chunks of ice for kilometres

It was close to 6pm and already the sky was getting dark…Had to head back soon…

Another long walk back to the carpark…

Took another last look….now the cloud had the summit covered up…
Itchyfingers were lucky….

Also see related posts:
> The Kueh Lapis – Punakaiki, New Zealand Trip #7
Changing Landscape – Arthur Pass, New Zealand Trip #6
> Seal with a Kiss – Kaikoura, New Zealand Trip #5
Freezing Sunset – Kaikoura, New Zealand Trip #4
Alfresco Dining – Kaikoura, New Zealand Trip #3
A Roller Coaster Ride – Kaikoura, New Zealand Trip #2
Mass Exodus – Christchurch, New Zealand Trip #1


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