Have you ever played hide-and-seek with a glacier?
Of course they cannot move, but that does not mean they cannot hide. They can, and pretty fast.
It happened in Franz Josef, in the Southern Alps in New Zealand, South island. I arrived on a sunny day in the evening, excited about the prospect of doing some walks during the next two days to see the glacier. But, as I found out, it was not that easy.
Day 1: the bike shelter is my house
The walks start from the car park, which is located 4km from the Franz Josef village. I was planning to go on foot since the bus shuttle and the bicycle rentals were out of my budget. However, a girl I met in the hostel dorm offered me to take her bike since she wanted to take rest that day.
Happy about it, I took the bicycle and left. I did not mind the clouds nor the light rain…at the beginning. By the time I was half way the rain was getting heavier, and I got completely wet. And I thought that biking in hot tropical weather was challenging! This was worse.
That moment I felt miserable. Unlucky. Sad. I hate rain, specially when it is cold, I am riding a bicycle, and I am all alone in a forest path. But I was already half way between the village and my destination, so I decided to go on, hoping that the rain would stop, or that I would find a dry, warm shelter.
I finally arrived to the car park where the walking trails start. There was no warm place but there was a bike shelter. Good enough. More than good, it was dry…perfect! I waited there for a while.
When the rain seemed to be lighter I left the shelter and followed the trail to the glacier terminal face. It was a 45min (one way) easy walk, and I was happy to find a few people there, since I did not want to be alone in the mountains in that weather.
The first part consists on a path in the rainforest, similar to the one to get to the car park. After that, the walk goes through the glacier valley until the terminal face of the Franz Josef glacier. It rained non stop and the clouds were very low, so the views were not as spectacular as I had expected (or I was not in the mood to appreciate them).
I came back to the bicycle shelter to have lunch (that I carried with me, there was nothing there!). I waited to see if the weather improved, but if anything, it was getting worse. And I was feeling cold. So after a long while I gave up, took the bicycle, and rode back… under the never ending rain.
Day 2: the toilet is my shelter
I woke up on the second day with the idea of checking the weather before going anywhere. When I went to the supermarket I saw that the sky was quite clear, so I decided to try again. This time, I went to the car park on foot.
By the time I arrived it was very cloudy, so I decided to do only the short treks. If it started raining, I could always go back to the bike shelter in the car park.
I went first to Peter’s pool, just 15 min away. Of course, the moment I arrived it started raining, but fortunately it was light rain. I came back to the car park where I had lunch over a flat rock (the picnic area?).
The weather seemed stable (as stable as it could be), so I ventured another short trail, to the Sentinel Rock, also 15min away. It is a high view point with good views of the glacier valley.
I still had the hope the sky would clear up (so naïve!), so I sit down on Sentinel Rock and waited. Mistake. As soon as I felt the first drop I jumped on my feet and run to the car park. Too late. The rain was very heavy (very!). It took me less than 10min to get back and find shelter at the toilets (the bike shelter was 50m farther). In those 10min I got as wet as the day before in several hours.
I waited there, at the toilets, for one hour and a half. It kept raining heavily non stop. I met an American woman who was waiting for her friends who had gone to the glacier trail (the one I did the day before). When they arrived, she told me they would drive to Fox. Drive! For once I was fast to react and asked her if they could please drop at the Franz Josef village. I did not feel like walking back 4km under the heavy rain… They were very nice and drove me back to the hostel.
Day 2, evening: hide-and-seek is our game
At 6pm it was sunny. So ironic! too late to go back to the glacier. Still, refusing to be defeated by the weather, I decided to walk to the bridge, only 15 min away, where there were nice views of the mountains.
Of course by the time I arrived heavy clouds were already covering the mountain peaks… Funny enough, on the other side of the bridge the sky was clearly blue. Oh well, the glacier and the mountains were playing hide-and-seek with me…
Torn between crying and laughing, I decided to laugh and enjoy the views of the sunset. That is, until the heavy clouds approached and I hurried to go back to the hostel. I would not get wet a third time!
I really hoped the weather would be better in Fox glacier, my next destination. Fingers crossed!
** USEFUL INFORMATION **
- How to get to Franz Josef village: there are daily buses to/from Greymouth and Wanaka.
- Walking trails start at the car park, the map is available on the iSite (tourist office).
- How to get to the car park (4km from the village):
- Shuttle bus, return ticket: NZD$12.50
- Bicycle rental: half day NZD$25, one day NZD$40
- On foot
- In Franz Josef village there is a small supermarket, one ATM, and numerous accommodation options.
- The glacier is surrounded by rainforest… so it rains a lot! Take the right gear.
- The glacier is retreating very fast (if you went there a few years ago, you might not recognize the place)
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