The drive to FJ Glacier was pretty darn cool – every turn had new and interesting scenery, and –as everywhere in this country– so widely varied within the space of just 10 minutes’ drive.

rolling and sort of temperate rain-foresty on the way to the glacier

rain forest-y foliage close up

on approach to the FJ Glacier township

awwww - cutie calf!

a really cute little pit stop on the way to the glaciers: Pukeko Tearooms and Store

pies - the kind with meat in 'em - are big here. I explained to the woman at Pukeko that we didn't HAVE pies liek these in the States, and puzzled, she asked, "But what do you have for morning tea?" Er, we don't have morning tea, either (but I am tempted to start a campaign for this).

I arrived at Franz Josef Glacier township about midday from Hokitika (what with all the stopping for picture taking), got my instructions from the i-Site people (who also helped to book me a walk ON the next day’s glacier, the Fox Glacier) and I headed out. There are a number of hiking trails around Franz Josef glacier, and I was determined to do a couple of them, and not just get out of the car, take a few snaps, and then drive on. First, I did the hike to as close as you can get to the face, through a high-walled valley filled with sediment and rocks from the glacier’s progress. You still have to stay pretty far away for safety’s sake, though, so I had to use the zoom lens to see very much.

in the valley, hiking toward the glacier

and there it is! (along with me)

this should give you some idea of the scale. see the people on there?

and see the spot where they were still, on the right? (look for the little blue specks, at the end of the blue spiky ice hills running across the center)

and finally, you can see the spot where they people WERE, but look at that compared to this entire massive thing - wow.

this is a close as you can get to the face of the glacier.

cave in the front, with ice melt - making a big river - coming forth from it. freezing cold, grey, and full of sediment.

Then I walked up a short, extremely steep slope for a bit of an overview.

slightly better view at the overlook

Nice, but there was the lure of a longer hike – 5 plus hours, there and back, that promised to get you up OVER the glacier. I decided to give it a go. There was a warning sign at the beginning – experienced trampers in boots only, well-equipped, yada yada…. I had been told by the i-Site lady this trail was liable to be wet, so I’d cleverly outfitted myself in my Keens water sandals, packed all sorts of layers and a raincoat, food, and a couple of bottles of water, and off I went.

the unheeded cautions

WELL. The next time they say ‘experienced only’, I will listen. This was not so much a hike as a full-body, all-limbs needed CLIMB.

this was the easy part of the path.

the medium hard bit...

and the somewhat harder part. note the sheer part of the rock face, top left.

the ONE PERSON capacity swing bridge. this did not inspire confidence. what SIZE 'one person', exactly???

wtf was THIS thing? it was so steep here they took boards, nailed some, er, wedges into them, and then, using pipes drilled into the side of the mountain, stuck the boards on the pipes, with a guide wire as a railing on the side. I was terrified, gripping the wire, bracing my other hand against the rock face, conscientiously NOT looking over the edge at the yawning chasm below, and sliding one foot carefully down each wedge - slowly, steadily.....

For three (since I am out of shape and sedentary!) hours. ONE way. There were points when the trail was just…. vertical. At one part, I was completely confounded as to which way to go, as the only two options presented were nearly sheer boulder faces at least forty feet high. The trail was almost all rock, much of it under forest, meaning it was mossy, which  especially when combined with wet feet from stream crossings, became as slippery as banana peels. I would only make it back before sunset if I kept brisk progress, I knew, but I also had to go VERRRRRRY carefully, because even a small slip could easily mean a broken ankle, leg, teeth, or noggin. And even though the trail was well-traversed (all sorts of people came perkily bounding out as I was going in  – middle aged women, families with sullen teenage girls, a horde of Italian boys – I did not relish the idea of getting chillily stranded for the evening before DOC people came to haul my clumsy butt back to civilization. SO! I was very cautious.

But even so, it was an unbelievably hard job getting up the hill, and at numerous points I had animated internal arguments about whether I should turn back or not. Sheer orneriness (coupled with careful consideration that I was likely to be able to return safely) compelled me onward. Small as I am, I often had to really struggle to reach handholds or steps that seemed designed for giant Kiwis. At certain points I tossed dignity to the wind and sat on my ass, scuttling down rock faces like a particularly gimpy spider.

And at long last, puffing and sweating, I made it! The view was amazing – the glacier SO much closer than any of the other trails – and I was joined by a pair of curious kea – Alpine mountain parrots, famed for their friendly, inquisitive natures, propensity for mischief, and extremely sharp beaks which they often use for dismantling shiny bits of tourists’ cars. I rewarded myself with a mightily mushed ham sandwich, some restorative chocolate, and then – reluctantly, but as fast as I could go in the waning sunlight – retraced my weary steps.

view away from the glacier

(sweaty) success!

much closer view

close enough to get a close up from here

ooh - mystical.

so, uh, whatcha snacking on, sweaty hoomin?

I got safely back, was not EVEN the last car in the carpark (though it was close, and I had fretted the Kiwis would send out a search party before I could get back to reclaim the campervan) and headed off to Fox Glacier and my (rather grubby) hostel room to work.

heh. on the way from FJ to Fox Glacier.

wow. the windy roads are all the more difficult when you come around the bend to see ---- this. amazing.

my kind of depressing hostel room.

heckuva sunset view, though, from the hostel balcony.

It would be a solid week before I could walk, step up, step down, stand up, sit down, lean, or bend without grunting with the pain of strained muscles. That’ll learn me to stick to the moderate hikes and those intended for the elderly.  😉

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