Hiking The Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

10644543_10153602880636633_6612160705649398670_oHiking the Franz Josef Glacier was something that was on my list of things to do while I was traveling New Zealand’s South Island.

The Franz Josef Glacier is thousands of years old and unfortunately, it’s disappearing. In ten years, it’s going to be here anymore.

To see the drastic changes it has gone through over the years, my tour group were shown pictures of what the glacier used to looked like a few years ago. And as sad as it might be that the Glacier is disappearing, it made me feel extra special for exploring it.

The only way to experience the Franz Josef Glacier is to book a tour.

12828455_10153602733061633_1165178579231058274_oYou are free to do the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk on your own, which leads you up to the glacier. But you cannot go onto the glacier without a guide.

The tour that I went on was called the Ice Explorer, which gives you a few hours on the ice. They give you a jacket, pants, boots, crampons, a bag and gloves, socks and a hat to wear on the ice. You’re also given a hiking stick. They recommend wearing a few upper layers and not to wear jeans. It was a bit chilly when when we first set out on the hike, however, I was a bit warm as we walked.

You’re not allowed to bring your personal bag with you. Are you are allowed to bring your phone/camera and a snack. I didn’t have the correct change for the lockers and my tour guide promised me that my stuff would be safe out in the open, next to my shoes.

“I don’t even have a key to house,” he said, ensuring me that Franz Josef was a safe town. I decided to take a chance and just leave my bag next to my shoes. After the hike, my bag was still there. Good thing because I left my wallet and passport in my bag and if someone had taken it, I would’ve been screwed.

But there’s something about New Zealand that made me feel like it was OK. Anyway, while I was on the glacier, the last thing that I was thinking about was my bag. I was just trying not to die.

12819460_10153602861421633_1040094166162221664_oI’m not the fastest hiker and I often fall behind while in groups, so I was a bit nervous about taking my previous and slow hiking experience onto a glacier. Our group took a 5 minute helicopter ride onto the glacier, a few people at a time. The helicopter ride was a cool experience in itself and made me feel really fancy pants. What? I’m just taking a helicopter ride onto a glacier. No big deal.

12828308_10153603084926633_4850248284161536760_oWhen we landed onto the glacier, we were instructed to go to an area and attach our crampons onto our boots. Putting on the crampons was a bit confusing for me even after our tour guide demonstrated how to do it. I ended up putting the left on the right foot and right on the left foot. The tour guide – a young British guy – had to fix my mistake. It also have him a laugh.

I looked up to see more of the glacier and looked down at my boots and crampons and hesitated a bit. Although the glacier is disappearing and is a lot smaller than it used to be, it still seemed pretty massive to me.

“OK, everyone,” Our tour guide said to my group. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Just don’t ask Priya.” He grabbed my shoulders and said teasingly.

“Just don’t let me die!” I responded.

Our tour guide was kind and always kept me in front of the group (so everyone had to go at my pace – haha). Perhaps he knew that I was a slow hiker. Or maybe it was because I’m short in height. Or maybe he took my Don’t-Let-Me-Die statement seriously. Whatever his reason was for always making sure that I was in front of the group, I was grateful for his consideration and kindness.

The guide carried an ice axe to chipped away ice as we walked to create a more walk-able path for us. We climbed up and down ice steps. At one point during the hike, we had to go through an ice crave. During my struggle to go through the tunnel, I got a bit soaked but made it out alive.

11872154_10153602861736633_1127435926817437536_o

12829441_10153602879866633_7208014341583038902_oThe hike was challenging but manageable. It turned out to be a really cool highlight of my 3-month trip around New Zealand! I’m so happy that I did it!

If you’re planning on traveling to New Zealand and want to hike the Franz Josef Glacier, here are some things that you should consider:

  • The weather in Franz Joesf is unpredictable and if the weather is bad, your tour will be canceled. I’d recommend booking at least three nights, which is what I did. My tour was actually canceled and I was put on standby for a booked tour the next morning. Luckily a slot became available for me and I was able to go on the tour.
  • The tour that I went on ( Ice Explorer) was $339 (New Zealand dollars). It’s pricey, but if you have the money to do it, I think it’s worth the experience. Also, if you’re a more advanced hiker, you can look at other options they have. But if you’re a beginner/slow hiker like me, than this one should be perfect for you. And try to book it a couple weeks in advance!
  • If you don’t have the money do for this, you can do the Valley Walk on your own. When my tour was canceled, I found a buddy and we went on the Valley Walk together. You can also do this alone. The tour company will offer a guided walk if your Glacier hike is canceled, but I’d recommend doing it on your own.

And last but not least, have fun! You’re on a freaking glacier!

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Have you ever been on a Glacier before? Tell me about it!

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