Why Hike the Franz Josef Glacier?
Located in Southern Alps, the Franz Josef Glacier – known as Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere in Maori- is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. Over 250,000 visitors a year visit the twelve-kilometre-long frozen river.
Hiking a glacier is an amazing experience, and in New Zealand, this doesn’t mean packing up enough equipment for an Arctic expedition and months of advance planning and training. The Franz Josef glacier is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the world, and perhaps the most fascinating. As it is a frozen river, its features are constantly changing. It is one of a few glaciers in the world to descend into rainforest- the others are in South America- and is an incredibly sensitive and rare environment to explore.
The glacier is presently experiencing a period of retreat and it is interesting to compare the glacier now to images of it in the 1940s, when it was much nearer to the Franz Josef township, and had a -now-vanished- large frozen lake at the base, which was popular with ice-skating locals.
How Fit Do You Need to Be?
There are different tours to suit all levels of fitness. You do not need to be an experienced hiker or mountaineer to enjoy hiking the Franz Josef glacier. The half-day hike is thought to be achievable by anyone with a moderate level of fitness, although it is not recommended for anyone under the age of eight.
Since 2012, the base of the glacier has become so unstable that all hikes from the base to the top of the glacier have ceased, so visitors have to approach the glacier by helicopter. Cyclical periods of advance and retreat are a feature of glaciers, but the rapidity of the present decline is thought to be caused by global warming.
Travel companies, such as ANZCRO, provide New Zealand tours which include heli-hikes of the Franz Josef glacier. The helicopter ride provides unparalleled, spectacular views of the glacier, and is in itself an awesome experience. Visitors land in the middle the glacier accompanied by experienced guides with all the necessary equipment, such as crampons and ice picks.
What to Expect on the Franz Josef Glacier
Nothing can be guaranteed, as the glacier is unusually fast-flowing and dynamic, but ice-caves, blue ice, crevasses, and tunnels are common features that the guides will show you. Hiking the glacier is thought to be pretty safe and the guides are widely reputed to be extremely knowledgeable and passionate about their job. There are some amazing web-cam images of the glacier.
What to Bring on a Heli-Hike
Some suggestions of suitable preparations and clothing include:
Sun protection cream
Layers of warm clothing
A waterproof jacket.
New Zealand is famous for its opportunities for outdoor adventure and extreme sports, such as bungee jumping. The Franz Josef glacier is an excellent way to participate in this without being too dangerous.