Franz Josef Glacier

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Where: Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast
Distance & Time: 2 hours for three short walks that loop together
Take: Camera, sturdy shoes, water, rain jacket, insect repellent
Amenities on route: Carpark, bathrooms + information boards at the start of the walk
Cost of the walk: Free


Looking at the photos on the information boards of what Franz Josef Glacier looked like 50 years ago, 20 years ago and today is a sad yet surreal moment. To see how much of the glacier has retreated/melted during that time and to know that within another 20 years (if that ) it will likely no longer exist made me incredibly glad I was able to see it now but also sad for those who would only see it through photos and videos in the future.

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It’s hard to put into words just how much the glacier has changed in a very, very short amount of time. It’s one thing to read about how something has changed over the years but to see the photographic evidence and to talk to some older visitors there who remember visiting it 20-30 years ago and seeing the difference now is another.

While we weren’t able to walk along the riverbed to glacier lookout as was the original plan (the route was blocked off unfortunately) we were still able to get an amazing clear view of the glacier and do some of the smaller walks. We were still able to find some pretty spectacular views though and it was nice to not have to battle with hoards of people to see them!

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The paths are very well formed, and because most of the walk are near the river it’s fairly flat going. There is a great swing-bridge over the river, and looking towards the glacier from it gives you an idea of just how far the glacier has retreated over the past few decades.

We ended up doing a few different walks, but two of them were there and back lookout walks. The final walk we took was a loop walk from the carpark out and vaguely following the line of the river back to the main road then we walked back along the road to the carpark. All up we were there for around 2-3 hours.

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While we were there in winter we lucked out with the most incredible weather. There were a few helicopters buzzing overhead bringing visitors up close to the glacier, and for a lucky few they were able to land and get out on the glacier for a walk around.

Amy’s Advice – be prepared to change your walking plan – come prepared to walk along the river bank but if it’s closed there are other ones to choose from!

It’s a fairly easy series of walks – nothing too strenuous and a good break to get in some nature time while driving down the West Coast. I could imagine that in the height of tourism season though it could easily become a walk full of people back to back, which wouldn’t be as relaxing!

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On a still winter’s day we had the most amazing reflection from Peter’s Pool of the glacier and surrounding mountains. The pool was iced over in the shadows which shows just how cold it can get here! The pool is small but gives the most incredible reflection of the mountains, especially with a contrasting clear blue sky.

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If you keep driving south and you’re in the know, you may come across a river which if you walk up a kilometre or so you’ll come to some naturally formed hot pools to the side of the river. We found a wee spot and managed to have a soak before continuing on to our campsite for the evening. We found one that was lukewarm, but there was one further on that had people in it that was super hot! Will definitely be calling in here next time we’re down that way.

The photos were taken by Paul + I!

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