Franz Josef & Fox Glacier


The terrain was getting more and more extreme as we were nearing Franz Josef Glacier.  It was a strange kind of day, the sun was trying to break through but thick bands of clouds wrapped around the mountains.  Like most things on this trip, we were working around the weather conditions of the moment.  So we started to think ahead to our plans once we arrived.

First things first, was to situate ourselves for the night.  After comparing a couple of spots, we found an awesome campground called ‘Rainforest Retreat’.  This place was perfect for us.  A park, tick.  Clean facilities, tick.  And a really good feel to the place, tick.  We picked the most interesting spot to park up, a little alcove within the rainforest, which was completely covered by a rainforest canopy.  It was very cute and we were happy with our find.

After heading out for some supplies, we were blindsided with an epic meltdown in the middle of the supermarket!  We’ve been going through a more intense stage recently with Fin. Not ideal in an unfamiliar place, when we have only just arrived.  But on the upside, at least we won’t bump into anyone we know ha ha! 

Our little boy is growing up (fast!) and he’s getting more fiercely independent by the day, perhaps we’re partly to blame as this is something that we actively encourage. On the whole we can generally contain things, but on occasion, the wheels fall off!  We’re human after all!

Fortunately, after our family meltdown tripled the length of time it took us to buy none of the items we actually needed on our shopping list (who can concentrate anyway when you are being yelled at by a mini version of yourself!), we eventually got outside and realised that the sun had come out, which of course instantly made us feel better. Now we’d got that out of our system, it was time to hit reset for the 5th time today!

We’d originally planned to walk out to Franz Josef Glacier in the morning, but as it had really brightened up, we reckoned we should seize the opportunity and make our way out there that afternoon.  The walk would probably do us good anyway!

The amazing thing about Franz Josef is it is one of the most accessible glaciers on the planet.  Which is a good thing, as we like a good walk, but by no means are we mountain climbers!

We set off from the Campervan. The route took us via a good track that followed the boulders and river bed towards the glacier, deep within the valley.  The views along the way were stunning and the weather was holding out. Fin was making light work of the trek. It was great for him to channel his energy into this mini expedition, and we were all soaking up the adventure of it all.  We wandered past awesome waterfalls as the scenery grew more and more dramatic as we were nearing the viewing site.

We reached as far as the track would take us, to the nearest point and just stood in awe. It was really quite surreal, looking out at the glacier.  We hadn’t really ever seen anything like it.  

Fin tried to take it all in as he stood there looking out at this colossal river of ice.  He was actually really astounding us to be honest, with this world-schooling approach, he was really soaking up all the facts and information about the world around us.  We bought him a book for Christmas which helps to explain all about nature and our planet and it has been invaluable when it comes to helping him understand these huge wonders of nature that we are showing him.  Having read the page about glaciers, he reeled off some of the little facts he had learned and he seemed so enthused by it all. Definitely a proud parent moment!

He wanted to physically touch the glacier, but we had to explain that as it has been melting away over the years, it is actually no longer possible to access the glacier by foot.  The only way now is to take a heli-hike up to the ice, and this was not something we were going to embark on ha ha!

So we all just stood there for a good while taking it all in.  It was really breathtaking.  We took a million photos then realised that the weather was really starting to turn on us, so it was time to hot foot it back down the track.  

As we retreated back down the hillside, we again joined the boulder riverbed.  When Fin saw a huge chunk of ice!  We got closer and there was a tour guide showing his group the ice.  We were so curious, so joined the group to hear more.  The guide explained that there are enormous pieces of the glacier that are now breaking up.  And only a few days ago, a massive section of the lower edge had broken free.  So much so, that it had created a damn where a cascading waterfall from higher up was then building up.  There was a huge release where large slabs of ice came crashing down the valley, and caused a surge wave further down the hill.  So these chunks of ice had settled just near where we were walking.  We were blown away; Fin really could touch the glacier after all!  He was absolutely thrilled, and giggled away as he realised how cold it was.  We just couldn’t believe it really.  But a part of us felt quite sad, as it was a harsh reminder of the fact that Franz Josef was fast receding.  In fact it was hard to believe that only 10 years earlier, it was almost a kilometre longer in length.  It was scary to think that some of the most incredible natural wonders of our planet are slowly disappearing.

The rain was drawing in fast now, and we hurried out of the valley. We had timed our glacier adventure perfectly and got to see it in fine conditions.  

Waking up the next morning, still buzzing from our Franz Josef encounter, we packed up and set sail over the mountain range to our next hike of the day, to see the very famous Fox Glacier!

This walk was more extreme than the previous day.  We took the mountain buggy so Fin could chill if his legs got tired, but to be honest the terrain was proving too mountainous for it! We were crossing rocky riverbeds and climbing steep boulder tracks to even get a glimpse.  The same story was of course unfolding for Fox too.  Dotted along the track were markers, which illustrated a timeline to highlight where the glacier would have been according to years. It was astounding to think that the glaciers were receding at such a rapid rate.  It was only when we got much closer that we even caught a glimpse of Fox glacier.  Yes it was incredible to see, but it was also evident just how little of it was actually left.  We were upset to think that perhaps only in the matter of a few years now, these glaciers will all but disappear.

Fin was getting really tired, he had spent the last steep part of the climb on his dad’s shoulders and so after a few pictures and a couple of minutes to take in the views, we were heading back down the mountain.  

Fin was chatting away on the way down about nature and wildlife and we realised that this journey was really helping him to develop a deep understanding of our world, which makes us feel immensely proud.

What an incredible experience - our little family getting so close to such incredible nature.  We felt so lucky to have been able to see Franz Josef and Fox Glacier in our lifetime and we will continue to explain to Fin, just how important it is to do whatever we can, to do our bit to help protect this beautiful planet.  We’ve seen first hand with our own eyes, just how much impact is occurring out in the wilderness.

Jen Skehan