Tears of the Avalanche Girl – Franz Josef Glacier

Considered the gem of New Zealand’s West Coast glaciers, Franz Josef is a 7.5 mile long glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

Together with the Fox Glacier, 12 miles to the south, it is unique in descending from the Southern Alps to less than 980 ft above sea level, amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest. The Waiho River (which means “smoking water” in Maori) leads away from the glacier and flows into the Tasman sea just a few kilometers distant.

Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

I was surprised to find that the glacial runoff was not too cold.

Early Maori called the glacier Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere – The Tears of the Avalanche Girl. The legend tells of a girl whose tears froze to form the glacier after her lover fell to his death from one of the peaks.

Scientists and ecologists today recognize that glaciers and their movement are one of the most sensitive indicators of climate change as well as a major source of variation in sea level.

However my thoughts as I walked toward the glacier were not of scientific interest but, rather, of reverence for its beauty and majesty. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

As I noted in my journal:

“Finally we arrived at Alpine Glacier Motor Lodge in Franz Josef. This very small town looks like what I imagine a Swiss town to be. But the town itself is not the gem; it is the glacier to the southwest that captures our attention and our photographic awe.

“Words cannot express either the grandeur of the glacier nor the sense of sadness at how much it has retreated (melted) over the past years. Where once it was nearly to the town, now we drive 4 km [2.5 miles] to get to the parking lot so we can walk another 1 or 2 km to be near (but not upon) its foot. Majestic and sad were my two thoughts.”

Signs at the head of the trail provided valuable information about trail conditions and the amount of time needed to enjoy the walk. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier A portion of the walk from parking lot to glacier foot was wheelchair accessible. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier Upon reaching the viewing area, however, the heavily-packed dirt path became a well-worn but rock-filled path along the riverbed. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

I got as close as I could to the glacier, wisely following the clearly-posted safety guidelines. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

“Spectacular, isn’t it?
But don’t go any closer!”

Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier Along the path I encountered many other visitors, heading toward or returning from the glacier. They seemed to share my feeling of quiet reverence and awe.

As many travelers have noted, travel offers the opportunity not only to see and experience other cultures and landscapes, but also to feel a connection thereto.  And, perhaps, a desire to care for and preserve that part of the planet.

Such was my sense of connection with Franz Josef Glacier, which was matched by deep gratitude for the experience. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier Wheelchair accessibility

As noted above, a wheelchair user could travel along a portion of the path, and would be able to enjoy a distant view of the glacier. Due to some inclines and the natural roughness of a well-packed dirt trail, traveling with a companion who could push the chair would be the best. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

There is an accessible restroom at the trailhead, near the parking lot. Anything is Possible Travel - Franz Josef Glacier

 

2 thoughts on “Tears of the Avalanche Girl – Franz Josef Glacier

  1. Great job, young lady…………..you show some promise…………….
    Looks like I’m going back to “paradise” in January, 2015 for one last look at the glaciers and everything else.

    • Thanks for the kudos, Dick. I’m delighted that you’ll be going back – although it’s unfortunate that you’ll miss Napier’s Art Deco Weekend. I know how much you loved that. I am enjoying the opportunity to relive my experience through my blog and photos.

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