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 of the Waiho river. 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.
My walk from Franz Josef town to Franz Josef Glacier is indicated as a solid purple line. Nearby is a crescent-shaped feature called the Waiho Loop, a terminal moraine feature marking the farthest advance of the glacier about 12-thousand years ago.
Additional information from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation:
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.