An Unforgettable Hike through the Franz Josef Glacier

I'm usually a huge couch potato who dreads hiking. To me, there is nothing enjoyable about aching limbs, sweaty armpits and breathlessness. But today was the day I would make an exception. 

Our Contiki bus rolled into the quaint town of Franz Josef. Here, you'll find the Franz Josef glacier, a 12 kilometre long glacier located on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island.

There are two things special about this glacier:

1) It's considered a temperate glacier because it descends from the Southern Alps to less than 300 metres above sea level. This means that the glacier is surrounded by rainforest and lush greenery, which is quite an uncommon sight to see.

2) Franz Josef Glacier Guides offers once in a lifetime tours. They'll fly travellers up to the glacier via helicopter and give them a guided tour through the million year old ice formations.

I wasn't going to pass on this amazing opportunity. The main reason I came back to New Zealand was so I could cross glacier hiking off my bucket list. I wasn't the only one stoked about this. The majority of my Contiki crew signed up for the Ice Explorer tour with me.

At the main office, we got suited up in winter gear. Franz Josef Glacier Guides supplied boots, crampons, pants, jacket, beanies, mittens and a stylish fanny pack. From there, we headed outside and walked to the helicopter pad.

Up until this point in my life, I had never flown in a helicopter. I was bursting with excitement! Inside, I buckled my seatbelt, pulled on my headset and waited for take off.

Up, up we went! We zoomed past countless mountains, plains and forests. Within five minutes, we arrived at the Franz Josef glacier. Helicopters sure are speedy.

Photo Credit: Kelly Tyndall
Photo Credit: Kelly Tyndall

Stepping off that helicopter didn't feel like real life. Being surrounded by ice formations created millions of years ago is something you don't experience everyday. Also, I was surprised at how warm it was at the top. It felt like a hot summer's day and I quickly stripped off some layers.

We strapped on our crampons and met our friendly guides Nathan and Alex. It was time to start trekking!

It took a while to get the hang of walking with crampons but within the hour, I was hiking like a pro. Climbing over, under and between blocks of ice turned out to be a blast even though sweat was starting to trickle down my forehead.

At the top, we took a short break. This place felt like paradise. Snow and ice blanketed the earth. The mountains nearby were coated with moss and rich rainforest. The sun was out and its rays kept us toasty warm.  I made sure to take it all in and make mental photographs so I could remember this scene forever.

Kelly on the other hand decided to use this time to take a nap.

After playing around with Alex's ice pick, we regrouped and continued our hike.

Photo Credit: Kelly Tyndall

We got to hang out in some cool spots. Check out this tight passageway. We were packed like sardines in there! One of the girls lost her boot in the middle and almost got stuck! Luckily, Kelly was able to push her out. What a hero!

Photo Credit: Kelly Tyndall
I was pretty sad when our three hour hike came to a close. I would've loved to stay and attempt to build an igloo. Unfortunately, it was time to head back into town.

Photo Credit: Kelly Tyndall

The helicopter ride down was just as scenic as the one coming up.

Back on land, we started to feel the effects of our climb. Exhaustion set in as our limbs began to ache. The perfect solution? We paid a visit to the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.

Nestled in tranquil rainforest, these glacier hot pools are the perfect way to unwind after a day of hiking. The facility offers massages, three main pools and two private ones.

Admission to the hot pools is free if you book a trip with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Although my Ice Explorer tour was quite pricy (over $300NZD), I felt like I got my money's worth. For roundtrip helicopter rides, informative and personable guides, admission to the hot pools and a day of unforgettable memories, I'd gladly pay for this experience again.


I’m a Canadian girl on a quest to step foot in every continent before I’m 30. You’ll most likely find me chowing down on Japanese ramen, partying at a music festival, hiking to the top of a scenic lookout, cuddling with cats, or chilling out at the beach. I’ve visited over 60 countries so far and hope to inspire you to do the same.

1 comment:

  1. Right ! I wish I could be there…. In the meantime, I am just pinning the pictures …