A must see adventure when visiting New Zealand and understanding sustainability.
As I child I remember my first visit to the Franz Joseph Glacier, on the west-coast of New Zealand. My Dad hired all the clothes, sticks and crampon for our boots to walk four kids up the glacier. I thought it would be like walking on snow but instead I remember it being slippery and hard. The glossy frozen ice was beautiful to look at but the reality of walking on it was a nightmare and to this day my strongest memory was agony and anguish. How my father ever got us four kids dressed and up there I will never know.
Fast forward to 2017 and with my 76 year old mother and ten year old daughter we took the easier route and took a helicopter up the Glacier. Something I would have never imagined back in my youth. Walking up the first section of the glacier is made much more difficult these days due to global warming and with it being unstable to walk on with tourists now banned from walking up it. We were fortunate to be the last passengers on the day we visited and took off around 7pm with a beautiful clear blue sky and warm March weather.
Besides the inital lurch in my stomach as our pilot weaved his way up the glacier, and the constant thumbs up to reassure my mother was ok, I couldn't believed what we were looking down on. It was magnificent. It was such a contrast to my childhood memories. To be up on top and see this magical piece of nature and its flow down the mountain. It was like seeing a river frozen in animation. It was the biggest wake-up call in my life about the dangers of global warming. The glacier is retreating and you can see it clearly. It was not as close to the car park from my youth. Our pilot took us around to see Mount Cook and if they fog hadn't started rolling up the valley we could have seen the Fox Glacier. We were put down on the top of the glacier where the snow was solid and soft. It was the best time of day to be there as the sun was starting to set and the fog was a nice golden colour.
We stayed overnight in the cute tiny town of Franz Joseph and it has all you need to stay and play - hiking, helicopters and hotsprings and more! Its got some cute bars and coffee shops. It reminded me of a mini-english university town. We didn't pre-book anything but just arrived one afternoon in March but maybe in school holidays you may need to do so. The receptionist at the hotel phoned around to to get us on a helicopter ride that evening - and we are so glad she did! The first company we went to booked us in to fly the next morning from the next town, Fox, which was only 30 minutes away but its not an easy straight road. Driving in New Zealand is hard work. There aren't many big highways and you may think towns are close but the roads are narrow and windy and there are a lot of one-lane bridges down that part of New Zealand.
If you don't want to pay the NZ$700-$800 for the half-hour helicopter ride and are a keen experienced hiker you can view the glacier by taking an eight hour hike up the 1,303 metres (4,275 ft) high Alex Knob, which overlooks the glacier. This trek is a step climbing and not for the beginner. However, the only way to actually see the glacier close up and be put down on it, is the aerial option. This for me (maybe not my husband) was money well spent. Its was a thrilling memory that was shared between me, my daughter and my mum. I just hope in the future my daughter takes me and her children back and the glacier is still there in all its glory.
We flew Emirates to Christchurch then hired a car and drove to the West Coast of New Zealand via the Authur's Pass route. Up and over the mountains. It was March so it is Autumn in New Zealand so it wasn't icy or snowy but be carefully in the winter months. New Zealand has super hard hot sun (thanks to that decreasing ozone layer) so be careful about getting sunburnt easily. If driving in New Zealand be prepared for long and windy drives. Especially in this part of NZ. They also drive on the left side of the road.
Did you know (thanks Wikipedia):
Glaciers are constant water streams that are always shifting and moving under their own weight? Glaciers are the most sensitive indicators of climate change?
Glacial ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on Earth?