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Glorious Glaciers – Following Fossil and a Few Slip-Ups!

by Jane McLellan

The west coast of New Zealand has two incredible glaciers called Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. I have a lot of favourite places in New Zealand and Franz Josef Village is high on the list. It’s a lovely little village with some good bars but the real reason for a visit is to hike the Franz Josef Glacier.

This glacier is stunning and, incredibly, it’s surrounded by lush rainforest. The hikes can be challenging and you really have to watch where you step, but you’re given all the appropriate kit and the guides lead the way. You have to squeeze through narrow blue crevasses, slide through ice caves and shuffle down near vertical walls of ice. It was a truly memorable experience and one of the highlights of my time in New Zealand!

For my glacier trek, I booked a full day hike with a local company. There were ten hikers in my group and we all got kitted out in a raincoat, gloves, hiking boots and some spiky things to go on the bottom of our boots. We were also given an ice axe, which I got perhaps a little too excited about. We had a great guide, called Fossil, who led us firstly through the rainforest and then uphill towards the glacier. It was so surreal moving from tropical rainforest to a desolate, icy environment, and the glacier was amazing, framed by tumbling waterfalls and sheer cliff faces. It was like walking on a giant ice cube.  Fossil created some steep steps using his ice axe, but it was still really hard work climbing and I was actually surprisingly puffed out and hot despite being surrounded by ice.

The best bit was navigating our way through the narrow ice tunnels. We had to slide with our backs against the wall and shuffle along, one step at a time – not the most elegant of things, but the tunnels themselves were beautiful. Some parts were quite dangerous, but Fossil took good care of us. We had to pay attention to where we walked because the ledges were very narrow and we could have easily slipped, while in some places there were huge cracks in the ice where we either had to teeter along a narrow plank or jump for it!

We rather uncomfortably perched on some boulders to have lunch and I remember thinking that I never wanted to forget the view that was in front of me, but I don’t think I ever could. We hiked for around seven hours in the end and everyone was sliding around and falling over, it was tiring but so much fun. The sense of teamwork was astounding as well. Everyone was eager to help out, offer encouragement and I know that we all, both individually and as a united group, had an incredibly experience that will undoubtedly stay with us forever.

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