Glacier trekking

We’ve been watching the weather report incessantly since reaching the west coast, taking refuge in a historic little hostel in Greymouth and waiting for the best opportunity to hike the Franz Josef Glacier. People have warned us repeatedly about the chaotic weather sent in from the Tasman Sea. It’s hugely challenging to predict and can change without warning. Considering this it sounds a bit foolish to even try to base our next hike on the weather report, but access to the glacier requires a professional guide so we’re using every resource we can find to choose the best window.

The Franz Josef is possibly the biggest tourist draw to the west coast. The glacier, located within the World Heritage reserve, is one of the few in the world that can boast close proximity to both a rain forest and an ocean. Naturally, this makes for some fantastic views. That is, if you manage to access it on a clearer day. This can be a challenge when traveling in shoulder season like we are. Granted we’d heard that the glacier trek itself is a fantastic experience with or without the views, but we’d be much happier with our mad money expenditure if we reaped the benefits of both the experience and the good photo opportunities.

Our final decision to book the hike was overridden by the women at the booking center who disagreed with our weather research and talked us into booking the earliest morning hike, one day earlier than we’d planned. A bit skeptical but remaining hopeful, we packed up and made the journey south towards the little town of Franz Josef. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived and discovered the weather report had changed. Rain was predicted throughout the night and all the next day. We watched helplessly from our Campervan as rain plummeted down on the roof. As predicted, the rain continued throughout the night- loud clamoring downpours that woke us up repeatedly as if to remind us that this was the precursor to tomorrow’s five hours on a bed of ice.

Morning showed little reprieve. Low lying grey clouds blocked any view of the mountains towering around us. We loaded into the van and joked about how that little tiny hole of blue sky on the horizon would follow us up the mountain… Ha! Get ready for one cold, wet day… No going back from here…

As we were so severely warned, weather can change in and instant out here. Thankfully, it did. That little hole of blue sky DID follow us up the mountain. By the time we got to the glacier’s base there was even some sunshine… Blue skies… A view of the valley below! Strapping on crampons and climbing onto the ice was a relief and a rush of joy. Blue ice caves and sharp walls of icey pinnacles enveloped around us as sunbeams poked through the clouds. I couldn’t force the smile off my face and probably looked like a cheshire cat to the two guides leading our group. We took too many pictures and lingered along the freshly cut ice steps until the group forced us onwards. What an experience! We are still amazed by the views, and the incredible access to the glacier itself. The highlight of our time here in NZ- we both agree.

And just as we started planning for an afternoon at a sunny campground, the weather pulled another about-face. As the bus pulled away from the hike’s base, the clouds pulled back in. One hike later in the day and we would have been climbing in rain jackets and sky pants. Dumb luck, perhaps. But we weren’t complaining about the afternoon’s storm as we headed back to camp.

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