Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Franz Josef Glacier


Day 2, August 20, 2010 - The Franz Josef Glaciers.

One of the highlights of our road-trip was climbing the Franz Josef glaciers.

We woke up early in the morning and walked from our motel to the Franz Josef Glacier Guides office, which was only a short fifteen-minute walk. There are several options available, depending on one's budget and schedule. We opted for the half-day glacier adventure, which takes about four to five hours return. However, we only spend two hours on ice; the rest of the time is used for the hike from the car park to the foot of the glacier, also known as the terminal.

Mich had made the booking online beforehand, so we just had to register ourselves at the counter upon reaching the office. Our climb was the first session of the day; they have three sessions per day, but I would recommend you to choose the first session because weather could be unpredictable in the afternoon and evening, especially during winter season. We were joined by about ten other tourists in our group and was given briefing by one of our guides on safety measures during the glacier climb. 

Though it looks like there isn't much dangers in climbing the glacier, they do not want to take anything for granted. It is actually quite dangerous while walking on the slippery ice; one slip could prove to be fatal. There was one case a couple of months earlier of our time there, where an Australian guy fell to death at this glacier. However, I only read about this news after I came back. Otherwise, I guess I would reconsider my decision to climb this glacier.


Taite, our English guide who gave us a short briefing at the office.


A lanyard was given to everyone with different coloured cards. We had to exchange the cards for the equipments.


Went to get our equipments like raincoat, waterproof over-pants, hiking boots, crampons, socks, bag, woolen hats and gloves in the equipment room.


The bus that we boarded to get to the glacier, located approximately five kilometers away.


Guess what, this was what I spotted in the bus. Even the space for the driver's name is still there. It's a second-hand bus, imported from Japan.

The glacier lies at a distance of five kilometers from the Franz Josef village. The bus only took us until the parking area, and we had to walk all the way from there to the foot of the glacier, before starting our climb on the ice. First obstacle was to hike through some bush, which took us about twenty minutes. The path was not that complicated, but it kept going up and down, we began to breath for air after a while. 

This must be down to the fact that we haven't been exercising regularly recently.


Here we go!


Began our hike through some bush.


The glacier can be seen in the background already.

We stopped upon coming out from the bush to catch some fresh air and take a short break. At the same time, we were divided into two groups - the first group was for those who prefer the challenging option, while the second group was for people who preferred to take it slow and easy. Almost everyone, including the two of us chose the latter group, and left the guide in the first group alone and lonely. That was when he started to "pull" some of us from the second group into his group haha! 

Our guide was an English lady, Taite who was friendly and funny at the same time. We continued to hike through some stones valley before reaching the terminal.


Our group is on the left, which the "advanced" group is on the right.


Beautiful waterfalls along the hike. A small rainbow was also spotted at the left waterfall.


Suddenly, the glacier disappeared from our sight!

We stopped at the safety barrier, in front of a rocky moraines left behind by the retreating glacier. People who are inexperienced and come on their own without proper equipments are advised not to go pass this border line.

Although the moraines generally look stable, rocks and ice can fall from the valley sides and the front face of the glacier at any give time. Hence, visitors are advised to follow the marked route to the glacier and stay on the walking tracks all the time. As for those who plan to get closer to the ice, it is advised to take a guided trip. Though the guided trip costs quite a bit, but I guess life is much more important than money, isn't it?


Taite asked if anyone wanted to take a picture by the signboard. We were the first to raise our hands, quickly followed by the rest of the people in our group haha!


Halfway up the moraine. We stopped every few minutes or so, to check if anyone got left behind.


That's the view from the halfway point through the rocky moraine. The glacier was at sea level thousands of years ago and has been retreating since.


We were given some last minute pre-cautions and briefing on how to put on the crampons (sharp metal thingy, strapped on to our boots)
and how to walk on ice as it's very slippery.


People was busy listening to the briefing, while this girl was caught red-handed, munching to her snacks haha!


We began our glacier climb!


But stopped every few meters to camwhore haha wtf!


Taite stopped every now and then to explain to us some facts about the glacier.


That's how the valley looks like while we were climbing the glacier.

Together with Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier is one of the two most well-known glaciers in New Zealand. This two glaciers in New Zealand, along with the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, are the only three glaciers in the world that are unique in the sense that they decends to less than 300 meters above the sea level. Located at such low altitudes, they are so close to the ocean and and can be easily viewed from the land.

There are several natural factors that contribute to this uniqueness, especially at the Franz Josef Glacier - driving rains, strong snow falls hitting the coast, the steepness of the valley where the glaciers make their way to the sea (in the case of the Franz Josef it descends from 2700 metres to 240 metres in only 11 kilometers), and the largeness of the area where the ice feeds the glaciers.

Due to strong snowfall, Franz Josef Glacier is one of the few glaciers in New Zealand which is still growing as of 2007, while others, mostly on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, have been shrinking heavily, a process attributed to global warming. Having retreated several kilometers between the 1940s and 1980s, the glacier entered an advancing phase in 1984 and at times has advanced at the phenomenal (by glacial standards) rate of 70 cm a day. The flow rate is about 10 times faster than that of most typical glaciers. Over the longer term, the glacier has retreated since the last ice age, and it is believed that it extended into the Tasman Sea some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago (taken from Wikipedia).


Walking through the crevasses, towards the sheet of ice.


Walking in between the shining light-blue ice sheet. It was a little narrow but luckily, this elephant didn't get stuck inside haha!


It wasn't too cold inside; it feels just like inside a refrigerator. 


Macro of the beautiful ice. Reminds me of my visit to Tokyo Ice Bar last year.


Huge pieces of icy rocks on the floor.


Reached a section where we had to climb on the carved steps of ice. Our guide did the carving for us using an ice axe.


While she did her carving, we did more camwhoring haha!


That's the crampon we had to put on while walking on the ice.


Silly pose à la Karam Singh Walia haha wtf!


On the other hand, Mich did a Sumazau dance pose lol!


A group of people at the glacier, who did something more extreme - ice climbing.


Tried to act smart by not holding to the rope while climbing the ice steps. Jatuh baru padan muka dia haha!

After more than thirty minutes climbing the glacier, we finally reached the final point of the half-day trip.  It was about 280 meters above the sea level. We were free to walk around the open space, as long as we don't go near to the dangerous cliffs. The guide commented on one of the group member who was talking on the phone. She said something like, "I think you're the first person I'd ever seen to make a phone call from the top of a glacier" haha!

It was also during this time we all had our lunch, that we had brought along. Some brought energy bars and snacks, but there was this couple who brought two bananas haha! But the two of us were a bit different. We still stuck to a typical Malaysian-picnic-style. Imagine this - eating homemade burger buns, filled with ham, lettuces, garlic and onion dip, on top of a magnificent glacier, on a sunny day. A glacier adventure just couldn't get any better than this.


Taite, our guide who joined us to take a rest on the glacier upon reaching our destination.


Mich with our burger buns, which I labeled each of them with our names on the top left of the plastic bag. That's because I'd secretly added extra ingredients inside my bun haha! She's sure to kill me if she reads this now lol!


One of the small holes where water accumulates on the glacier. Believe it or not, I saw a baby penguin swimming in the water!


There was only one thing that came to my mind when I had these ice on my palm - ais kacang!


Someone (you know who) tried to disturb me when I was busy "fingering" (inside joke) the ice haha!


The sun was out, and the ice began to melt.

There is a Maori legend which explains the origin of the Franz Josef Glacier, which the Maori call "Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere", or "The Tears of Hinehukatere".

According to the legend,  a enthusiastic mountain climber named Hinehukatere persuaded her lover, Wawe to go climbing with her. The two of them were moving through the area, when unfortunately, an avalanche swept Wawe away from the peak and he was killed. Hinehukatere's grief was so deep that she wept so long and so intensely, and her tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

In 1865 the glacier was named by a German explorer, Julius von Haast after the Austrian emperor Franz Josef I. At the time the terminal of the glacier was some kilometres further down the valley than the present site.


Me, with my gear. We borrowed the ice axe from our guide to pose haha!


Standing on the so-called "frozen tears" of Hinehukatere lol!


The girlfriend has complained that I posted too few couple pictures in previous entries. That's the reason you see so many couple pictures in this entry haha!


We spent a good half an hour up there on the ice, before began walking down the glacier.

The upper layers of glaciers are more brittle, and often form deep cracks known as crevasses. The presence of crevasses is a sure sign of a glacier. Crevasses form due to differences in glacier velocity. As the parts move at different speeds and directions, shear forces cause the two sections to break apart, opening the crack of a crevasse all along the disconnecting faces. 

Hence, the distance between the two separated parts, while touching and rubbing deep down, frequently widens significantly towards the surface layers, many times creating a wide chasm. Crevasses seldom are more than 46 meters deep but in some cases can be 300 meters or even deeper (taken from Wikipedia).


Ice cracks spotted on the way down.


Crevasses make travel over glaciers hazardous. Subsequent heavy snow may form fragile snow bridges, increasing the danger by hiding the presence of crevasses at the surface


There is only one consequences if one slips and fall into these deep cracks, unless you're a cat with nine lives.


Walking up the ice steps again.


One last shot at the glacier.


I think that's the advanced group, still at the top of the glacier. They look like ants, don't they?


Again, we had to walk up and down the glacial moraine. It is so much steeper than pictures in this photo, and it's a nightmare for a giraffe like me who has a high gravity point.


Anyway, everyone reached the valley safely, including the giraffe haha!


It started drilling, as seen on my raincoat while we were waiting for the bus to come.


Finally, the bus arrived and we returned to the Franz Josef village.

This glacier climb is one of the most expensive activities we did during my holiday in New Zealand, but trust me it's worth the money and time. If it is within your budget, make sure you include this place in your itinerary because it is really fun and exciting. You don't get to do this in every countries, even though it snows in those country; like Japan, for example. Besides, we had a Dutch couple who were old enough to become our parents in our group during this glacier trip, so it's not as hard as other extreme activities like bungee jumping or sky diving.

After we returned to our motel and took some rest, we headed to the Glacier Hot Pools nearby. We got a discounted price as we booked it together with the glacier climb. It was a good way to relax at the end of a hard day's ice climbing, trekking, sight seeing in the glacier area. Furthermore, it was winter and freezing outside, so the pools were great to keep warm.


Entrance to Glacier Hot Pools, located in the heart of Franz Josef township.


Open boxes under the bench for visitor to keep their stuff. The pools on the left are one of the three main pools in this place.

There are three main pools with different temperatures of 40, 38, 36 degrees respectively, plus three secluded private pools. Each main pool has small coves where you can relax in privacy. They are set amongst the native bush and birdlife with sails overhead. And at night time the lights turn it into a rainforest wonderland. Due to the layout, it does not seem crowded and the atmosphere is classy, quiet and relaxing.

The place is clean and pretty. However, it was nothing extraordinary, to be honest. The water is supposedly glacier water but it was no different to a local swimming pool; the water is heated, so it's not a natural hot spring. When we arrived, it was early and the place was still empty so it was very relaxing. We were the only ones using the pools, and it feels as if we own those pools haha!


Oh, no! 18SX picture lol! Anyway, we had the lifeguard to take this picture for us.

It was indeed a perfect way to end our adventurous day at Franz Josef!


Kae Vin said...

This glacier is extraordinarily gorgeous! That would be a place I would like to go someday! :)

and lol at the last naked photo of you! Can see layers of fat even through the refraction of water! XD

Anonymous said...

wow calv wearing :D
i tot u say that place was hot spring how come got lifeguard meh the water so cetek ma... ;p

CLF said...

unlimited ice kacang for life FTW!!! XD

why Japan takda glacier leh? hmm.....

Anonymous said...


Cliff CLF> Ya loh!!! I want see Glacier too lah!!

calvin said...

@ kae vin:
ish this boy. if there's a person who's gonna make such comment, i was sure it's gonna come from you haha! no choice-lah, have to keep some fats to keep warm in winter lol! xD

calvin said...

@ anonymous:
hahaha! spender. what a nostalgic word that is. but no, i wasn't wearing a spender; it was a swimming trunk. the brand is arena lol!

it was a man-made hot spring, so the water doesn't come from natural source. yes, the water was shallow, but the lifeguard is there just in case something untoward happen, since the pools are open to kids as well.

they say a water of one-foot deep is enough to make a person drown.

calvin said...

@ cliff clf:
perhaps it's due to the geographical location, although it snows so much in japan ;)

calvin said...

@ kesenaitsumi89:

Anonymous said...

calv why didint u potong the ice that got algae fern inside and take back home???...u can show to ur family and frens.. :D

by the way u should put the 18SX on top of the last picture LOL!!!!..hehe btw nice pic i put that pic as my screensaver btw >:D

calvin said...

@ anonymous:
nice idea, but i don't think i will be allowed to bring the ice cube on to the airplane >.<

haha! which photo that you use as your wallpaper? =P

Anonymous said...

the last 1 :D hehe...

is it expensive to go on a trip like this?? coz im intending to hav trips like this when im studying abroad..hehe

calvin said...

@ anonymous:
last picture as your wallpaper?! you must be kidding me, aren't you? haha!

well, it can cost quite a bit for this kind of activities; a few hundreds usually. anyway, you can take a look at their website for the rates ;)

reena (aka calvins kachng) said...

omg speedo.
hello 21st century! im going to buy you a pair of board shorts for your birthday :P

calvin said...

@ reena:
hey! that's public humiliation-lah weh! haha!
it sounds as if i come from stone-age period lol!
anyway, a birthday present, be it anything, is always welcomed xD

Sheryl0202 said...

wow!!! Too bad we didnt have time to go to franz glacier when we were in south island, nevermind though as this give us a reason to return to south island! The scenery are gorgeous!

calvin said...

@ sheryl0202:
i bet your itinerary was really tight >.<
i have to say we were like you guys as well, racing with time all the while throughout the road trip haha!

i am already thinking about a return to new zealand too but this time, it's gonne be the north island =D

by the way, were you on backpacking when you traveled in new zealand?