I thought that Queenstown was a tiny place, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Franz Josef was absolutely miniature!
The town is made up of a few hostels, motels, a campsite, and a handful of restaurants and bars. Tourists go to Franz Josef to visit the hot springs, to go walking, and to visit the Franz Josef Glacier.
Ben and I arrived in Franz Josef at tea time. We only had one night there, and we wanted to make the most of our time, so after dropping out bags off at the hostel, we marched straight to the Glacier Hot Pools.
The thermal pools are pure rainforest and glacial waters, and they were a bit warmer than the glacial lake was in Queenstown!
There were three pools to go in, each at a different temperature, from 36 to 41 degrees. Wading into the pool killed our sunburn at first! But when we grew used to the water, it was very relaxing.
The next day, we got suited and booted to head up to the glacier.
We booked our Glacier tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, and were given a ski jacket, big boots, and a bag to take up to the glacier with us. I opted for waterproof trousers too, but Ben – the tough nut that he is – decided to brave it wearing only shorts.
We were in a group of nine, and there were two helicopters to transport all of us up to the glacier. To determine where we should each sit in the helicopters so that the weight was balanced, we were each weighed. Luckily for me, I was the lightest of the group and was given the front seat in the helicopter!
This was amazing, because I had the best view out of everyone… and I could take lots of selfies.
Once at the top, we were introduced to our glacier hike leader, and all attached crampons to the soles of our boots to give us better grip on the ice.
We were then lead up and around the glacier, through crevasses, over hills, and down steep slopes.
The glacier was beautiful! Some of the ice looked blue, and this is because it is so densely compact that light cannot penetrate it, so it reflects off and gives a blue appearance.
Part way round, there was an ice stream – I don’t think I’d ever seen a stream traveling purely through ice before! The water in the stream was from the glacier, so it is completely clean, pure and distilled – and it was also very cold.
We saw some ice caves, but as it was so hot and the ice was melting, part of the cave had collapsed and it wasn’t safe to enter.
At the end of the tour, the guide who had been leading us round the ice, briefing us about safety, and hacking away at the ice to carve steps, told us that he was only 19 years old!