Ever since I saw the glacier at the end of the Hooker Valley track in Mt Cook, I’ve been meaning to go to Franz Joseph. I wanted to walk on a glacier and see the thing up close. It took me a while, but in my last trip through New Zealand, I finally managed to come over. I had all morning to explore the glacier by myself and was lucky since the weather was great and you could walk all the way to the viewpoint. Even there you are quite far from the glacier, but getting any closer requires coming out with a guide, which was the plan for the afternoon anyway. This was a little teaser.
The walk to the viewpoint was the walk through the valley where years ago the glacier lay. Later there was a glacial lake and now all that’s left is a small river. The valley was filled with grey rocks, covered in red and green moss. The gigantic walls on the sides made me feel small. Waterfalls were flowing off them, creating rainbows with the sunshine. One of them branched off in several directions like a little piece of art. The rocks were art anyway, with stripes in all shades of grey, like a stone zebra.
When I got closer to the warning signs, I got closer to the mighty Franz. Information signs explained the Maori story of ‘Hine Hukatere’, the avalanche girl. There was a Maori woman who loved mountain climbing. Her husband didn’t like it too much, but came along anyway, to be with his wife. One day, things didn’t go according to plan. He fell off the mountain. Hine’s tears streamed through the valley and creating this amazing glacier, tears frozen by the gods. Much better than just calling it after an Austrian emperor, isn’t it?
I went early in the morning and it wasn’t until my way back to the car that I saw the hordes of people who come here every day. I had some time left and climbed up the little track to Sentinel rock for a higher view of the valley and glacier. Then there was Peter’s pool, where the glacier reflected in the water of a tarn. A very pretty sight. Seeing Franz Joseph I got all excited about that afternoon’s ice explorer. Get the crampons ready!