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Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

New Zealand: slow bound to Franz Josef Glacier

To a person, from the InterCity coach driver to the proprietors of motels along the South Island’s west coast, everyone spoke about how the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two of the most accessible glaciers in the world. All things being equal, reaching the glaciers is definitely easier with a vehicle.

But I’m on New Zealand’s South Island, in the middle of a rainforest, and within the Westland National Park which is part of a UNESCO Heritage Site. I’m in no rush; so I think I’ll spare the trees from the expelled products of a combustible engine.

I decide on the following course of action: awake at the crack of dawn, have a solid breakfast, and walk out from town to the glacier. The distance from town to the parking lot at the glacier is about six kilometres, which is 90 minutes one-way. From the parking lot, there is another 45-minute walk to the glacier’s terminus.

The first thing is a walk through the thick lush rainforest, all part of the catchment basin for the Waiho river. The Waiho river begins mostly as meltwater at the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier, runs west and joins the Callery River near the Franz Josef Glacier township, and drains into the Tasman Sea.

The second is the glacier walk on the valley floor. As the glacier has retreated, what’s left behind is a broad plain with steep walls to the side. The walk occurs over rough exposed ground with rocks and stones of various sizes strewn on the valley floor, and involves crossing streams and stream beds. The path is clearly marked by green vertical posts the entire way with the closest view point about 500 metres from the glacier terminus. Sufficient distance is required, as recent observations show that the glacier terminus is unstable with the threat of ice- and rock-falls.

The glacier has experienced cycles of advance and retreat, and as Laura Mills wrote in the New Zealand Herald on 9 July 2012:

Between 1893 and the end of its last big retreat 90 years later, in 1983, Franz Josef Glacier receded about 3 kilometres. Between 1983 and 2008 it advanced almost 1.5 kilometres after heavy snowfalls. But in the past four years it has melted almost 500 metres.

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Waiho river bailey bridge

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Waiho river, west to the sea

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Waiho River bridge

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Making a choice … today, it’s the one on the left

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Daily update

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

How long is the walk

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand - 21 Jul 2012

Welcome to the valley floor

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Glacial debris on the valley floor

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

The slow approach

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Rotational scraping and till at bottom of a corrie

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Big ground moraine near present terminus

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Angled view up

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Icefall ridge

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

“Safe limit” doesn’t prevent others from hopping the fence

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Glacier melt with chunks of ice

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Stickmen in danger!

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Straight up the glacier

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Icefall at the top

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Icefall

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Blue compressed ice

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Longitudinal crevasses

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Down the stream of melted ice

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Shadows long, time to head back

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Parting view

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Here where I stand, the glacier was at least 10 metres high

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Final view along the valley to the glacier

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Time to go back

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier township, 1 of 2

Franz Josef Glacier, Westland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier township, 2 of 2


Pins A and B in the map below indicate the start- and endpoints, respectively, of my walk from Franz Josef town to Franz Josef Glacier. Just above (north of) pin A is a crescent-shaped feature called the Waiho Loop, which is a terminal moraine feature marking the farthest advance of the glacier about 12000 years ago.

More

•   2 years of the glacier’s retreat, compressed into 15 seconds

Additional information from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation:
•   Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere: Franz Josef Glacier | Walk to the glacier
•   Tai Poutini: Westland National Park.
•   Te Wahipounamu: South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

•   The slow forest walk to Fox Glacier
•   The Grand Traverse over New Zealand’s Southern Alps
•   Sounds of a sunset on New Zealand’s South Island
•   Lake Matheson and the southern Alps at sunset

I made the photos above on 20 and 21 July 2012; the first two photos in the slideshow were made with a 4th-generation iPod Touch, and the remaining photos were made with a Canon EOS450D camera. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-28I.

9 Responses to “New Zealand: slow bound to Franz Josef Glacier”

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Nico. Though the rainforest itself is a temperate one, it is still, as you rightly said, a very interesting experience to walk out of the rainforest to see a glacier at the very end. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      Like

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