When you read the word ‘glacier’…what comes to mind? Huge expanses of ice that sit just on the cusp of the earth itself? Or something a of a lesser scale, perhaps? Or do you have absolutely no idea? I ask this mainly because glaciers are quite underestimated in their monstrous magnificence, and I doubt that many people have ever come across many in their lifetime because they may consider it as the case of “once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”. I have seen a few glaciers in my time (all 18 years…) and I can safely say that this isn’t the case. Like many things in nature, each landmark has it’s own unique quality, and Franz Josef clearly harbours an attractive quality that brings people of all shapes and sizes from over the world to see it.
The sad truth is that the glacier was much more to behold over 10 years ago when it stretch ed out beyond where it reaches today. Also, visitors were allowed to walk on the glacier itself, however that opportunity is now restricted to those who can afford a helicopter ride up to safer areas upon the glacier, due to it’s unstable conditions. Obviously, I was gutted to miss the chance to walk on the glacier but this in no way hindered my experience of Franz Josef.
As Emily and I were being as cheap and frugal with our finances as much as possible during this trip, we decided that the $12 shuttle to the start of the glacier track was a waste of money and therefore decided to walk there. The walk took us about 45 minutes max to reach the carpark where the multiple routes branched off to viewpoints of the glacier. By this point, Emily and I were already digging into our snacks to fuel us for our endeavour to the glacier. Admittedly, the entire walk there and back was both quite easy and relatively flat. The path towards Franz Josef glacier cruised alongside a river of concrete coloured water, crashing over the rocks on the riverbed, carrying murky sediment away from the glacier. I found this quite surprising, as glacial water is usually thought of as crystal clear, of the purest kind, and yet this water was quite the opposite.
Despite the dull colours of the river, the glacier itself sported a stunning turquoise underbelly, as if the ice had captured the colour of a summers day. Unfortunately, the sky on this particular day was shrouded in clouds, however I thought that this almost enhanced the effect of the towering waterfalls, cliff-edges and monstrous glacier before us. It was like something out of the Lord of the Rings series, or King Kong. I walked along the path, almost half expecting King Kong himself to climb over the top of the waterfalls, banging his chest with clenched fists.
The round-trip walk was around 4 hours, so obviously Emily and I were quite exhausted when we returned to the hostel. Therefore, what better way to calm our aching muscles than with a hot glacial pool, conveniently located just down the road from the hostel. It was a no brainer. The money we saved on walking to the glacier was put towards better use, costing only $27 for unlimited access to the three public pools, Emily and I considered the hot pools a worthy investment. What better way to soothe our feet and calm our bodies for another day of adventuring.
Next stop: Wanaka and Queenstown!