Over 3,000 glaciers rest on New Zealand’s South Island, but the Franz Josef holds its own as the most inspiring. A hike on its walls is on most people’s “NZ Must Do” list, and missing the experience is regrettable.
85% of tours end up canceled due to weather, and I feared my tour would be one of them. The weather had already destroyed a handful of my planned activities, but I refused to miss Franz Josef .
As a fantasy author, I wanted to immerse myself in icy tundras. My second book delves into an ice kingdom, and I wanted the hike to familiarize me with a frozen world.
From the legend of its origin to the experience itself, I got all I wanted and more.
According to Maori legend, the glacier formed from the tears of a Maori princess named Hine Hukatere. In a tragic tale of love and heartache, Hine met a man named Wawe, who belonged to the beach tribe.
Because Wawe couldn’t survive the mountains, he convinced Hine to spend most of her time on the beach with him. Although Hine agreed, she grew to miss the mountains that raised her.
Hine convinced a reluctant Wawe to join her in her homeland, but an avalanche swallowed him along the way. His death left Hine Hukatere heartbroken at the tip of the mountain. Her tears created a river, and the Maori gods noticed her pain. Through her love for him, they froze her tears into the glacier known as Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, or Tears of the Snow Maiden.
Though still referred to by its Maori name, the glacier is now more commonly known as the “Franz Josef.”
YOUR HIKING OPTIONS
Due to prices, the most commonly chosen tour is the Ice Explorer. Through that, you receive a helicopter ride to the glacier and entry to the hot pools after.
Whichever tour you choose, after check-in, join your group in watching the helicopter land. Heed the warning to keep your head low as you approach (particularly if, like me, you’re six-foot-five.)
Once boarded, the helicopter lifts you into a jaw-dropping view of the glacier.
To make the hike easier, you’re provided with hiking spikes known as crampons, which cling to the ice to help avoid slippage.
Trust me, the hike would be impossible without them.
EXPERIENCING KA ROIMATA O HINE HUKATERE/FRANZ JOSEF TODAY
The Ice Explorer provides three hours of hiking along the ice while learning the above-mentioned history of the glacier. You also get an in-depth description of the dangers global warming presents to the glaciers.
Though disheartening, it encourages you to enjoy it while you can.
For my amusement, I let my imagination wander as I stared at all of the natural ice sculptures. The glacier may melt daily at a rapid rate, but what exists is a plethora of unreal beauty through turquoise glass.
Through my fascination, I found this elephant having a nice lie down:
And this path of skulls:
Fan of Lord of the Rings? If you look hard enough, you might even find this frozen version of The Argonath:
Have you ever wondered how an array of ice castles look?
What about the freshest water you can taste from the glacier’s river?
Despite any art in its icy depths, nothing can beat a full view of this world of ice:
ADDITIONAL OPTIONS FOR POTENTIAL CANCELATION
Although an 85% chance of cancellation is intimidating, plenty of hiking options can be found in the Franz Josef township instead. If you’re interested in the best alternate views of the glacier, check out the Robert Point Track.
If hiking isn’t quite your thing, check out the hot pools, whether you need a warm up or not. The pools consist of three different heat levels, from tepid to hot tub, and you can jump from pool to pool at your leisure. The purchase of a glacier hike grants you a ticket (even if the tour cancels), but it’s a cheap option to do on its own either way.
However, if you find yourself in one of the 15% of tours not canceled, don’t miss out. Remember, with daily recession, it could be gone before you’ve had the chance to redeem the opportunity you gave up.