The early Moari knew Franz Josef glacier as Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere, which translates to “tears of the avalanche girl”. According to their legend a girl lost her lover when he fatally fell from the peaks and her flood of tears froze and turned into the glaciers.
The glacier was first explored by Europeans in 1865 by the Austrian Julius Haast who is also responsible for naming it after the Austrian emperor Franz Josef.
Coming from the south we first visited Franz Josef glacier. Starting from the car park we followed the glacier river upstream towards the ice field:
An interesting fact about Franz Josef and the neighboring Fox glacier is that they are some of the very few glaciers in the world that penetrate rain forest. An interesting mix considering the high temperatures the rain forest requires and the naturally low temperature ranges around the glacier’s snow and ice fields! Our view back along the ice carved valley:
Looking up the glacier tongue of Franz Josef glacier:
The snowfield at the glacier head covers 32 km² at 1’700 to 2’800 meters above sea level. The glacier is approximately 13 kilometers long (from head to terminus) and its end lies less than 300 meters above sea level. The annual precipitation is over 16 meters on the upper slopes and decreases to 5 meters in the valley.
Glaciers are always on the move. However Franz Josefs flow rate is quiet impressive: On the upper ice fall it is approximately 4-5 meters per day and on the lower glacier it is about 50 – 60 centimeters per day!
While we were standing at the look out, we could see and hear big ice chunks of the glacier thundering into the river below:
On our way back down the sun was on its way to disappear behind the mountains:
That night we were camping at Ottos campground, about 13 kilometers north of Franz Josef at the northern end of Lake Mapourika. In the evening we used some leftover provisions and prepared a delicious potato-cheese dish. We felt very Swiss eating our Cheese Raclette in the middle of New Zealand… 😉
We also met a very funny Irish couple that evening and since they had been to Asia already we got some useful travel inspirations from them.
Sunset over Lake Mapourika:
Next morning started with coffee, sandwiches (Dijon mustard, turkey, Camembert and hot spice flakes) and cereal:
We headed to Franz Josef village and booked a helicopter flight over the Fox and Franz glaciers for the afternoon before we met some monster Kiwis 🙂
Then we set off to first explore Fox glacier by foot.
On the way to the car park we drove through heavy rain-forest. Not only by looks but also by the sounds coming from the woods we could tell the difference to “regular” forests. We heard parrots and screeching sounds of other birds and animals we did not get to see.
After a short walk we got a first glimpse of the glacier:
Fox glacier was named to honor Sir William Fox who was a Premier of New Zealand and one of the first tourists to visit the glacier.
We passed some waterfalls:
And walked through a hot and dry glacier carved valley of rocks. Hot and dry, not quite what one would expect when visiting a glacier!
After about half an hour we arrived at the terminal face of the glacier, but because of the distance the view was not quite that impressive:
In the afternoon our aerial sightseeing flight started from Franz Josef village. We were both excited as this was our first helicopter flight!
We got lucky and were seated right next to the pilot in the front row. The view was amazing and we enjoyed the bird’s-eye view of the landscape dashing by beneath us:
From above both glaciers looked far more impressive as we were able to see much more of them, compared to standing in front of them:
Our Helicopter trip included a snow landing and when we got out on to the glacier the sky was still blue, but soon clouds started to move up quickly:
After some minutes on the snow of Franz Josef glacier we took off again and headed over to Fox glacier:
We spotted an amazing waterfall plummeting through a hole through the glacier ice:
And then headed down along Fox glacier and over the rain-forest and back to Franz Josef village:
The entire helicopter flight only lasted for about half an hour, but it was really worth it. Its amazing how easy you can fly through valleys and over mountain ranges within minutes, compared to hours or days one would need to walk the distance… 🙂