I have to admit, I did splurge a bit on the whole glacier experience thing on this trip to New Zealand; but in my defence, we don’t have them back at home to marvel at and I couldn’t decide whether it would be better to spend my dollars on Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier during planning and booking. So, why not do both?! Franz Josef Glacier was once the more popular and crowded of the two glaciers because it was more accessible and it drew more tourists from the larger village that inhabits its surrounds. These days, however, Franz Josef Glacier is the much more expensive experience as the only way to get onto the ice is via helicopter due to the collapse of its terminal face in recent years.
We did the half-day Ice Explorer hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, which included a short helicopter transfer (my first ever!) and about 3-4 hours of “ice time”. Similar to our Fox Glacier experience, our guide was armed with a pick for cutting out a path for our group, as well as extensive knowledge of how glaciers form and several of its unique features (i.e., ice falls, moulins, etc.). Unlike the Fox Glacier experience, however, was the incredible sense of the sheer magnitude and greatness that is characteristic of many glaciers, as the hike moved past deep crevasses and very tall walls of ice and other formations. This is in part, due to the fact that we did not have to walk to the terminal face and the helicopter flight taking us further up the glacier. The hike itself is also strenuous and fairly difficult, as the sections of ice that the group traversed was as steep, if not steeper, than the walk to the terminal face of Fox Glacier. Also, luckily for me and my photos, my history of ankle injuries meant that I got to walk at the front of the line for the most of the tour because “glaciers are the worst terrain for weak ankles” according to the guiding company. (That is, until the guide figured that I was a much stronger hiker than a family that were also in my group).
Franz Josef Glacier was my favourite of the two Westland National Park glaciers that we visited. I loved it for the longer “ice time” and its great ice formations, as well as the opportunity to jump on a helicopter. Highly recommended! It was just unfortunate that with the constant wearing of sunscreen and insect repellent (for those pesky sandflies) over the last few days made my skin allergies flared up, so I didn’t take up the Glacier Hot Pools entry that was also included with our Glacier hike ticket. What a shame.