Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Franz Josef Glacier and Where do you stay?

South Island to Franz Josef

The first part of this bog entry is an answer to a question sent to me and the second part is a self indulgent record of a good day out when I went glacier climbing. First the questions:

Q: I have heard that it is not that easy anymore to camp "everywhere" – what is your experience?

In the old days in New Zealand, (not sure how long ago that was), you could simply pull up on the side of the road and camp for as long as you wanted. However, over the past few years restrictions have been introduced in some areas to stop “free camping” or to control it. Crudely, it is harder to free camp on the North Island than on the South and on both islands, there are districts where it is prohibited and also districts where it is allowed. Presumably you are fined if you are caught.

Commercial camp sites have become more common and every town of any size has at least one, often quite a few and also there are commercial camp sites in seemingly random places along main roads. The authorities seem to work hard at “encouraging” you to go to one of these. The Department of Conservation also maintains hundreds of less sophisticated camp sites throughout the country which are usually in far nicer places that those in towns.

Campervans fit into two categories, those which are certified for “Freedom Camping” and those which are not. To quote the rules from one district:

“Overnight camping on any council land may only be carried out in a mobile vehicle fitted with a minimum of three day capacity toilet and grey water storage facility and holding a containment certificate”.

Our Wilderness Van has such a certificate on display and therefore we can camp anywhere it is allowed.

Q: Is it necessary to have a toilet and shower on board if doing freedom camping?

To camp legally where it is allowed for you to do this, you have to have a toilet and a certificate. There are no regulations about smelling so you do not have to have a shower!

Q:  Is it still free to get fresh water at public dump stations?

We have visited a few public dump stations and some of them had fresh drinking water and some did not. One of the DOC sites we visited had fresh water although there was a warning sign there saying that they were not guaranteeing it. Therefore the rule must be, fill up when you can and empty when you can.

We have heard a surprising amount of animosity directed towards visitors in camper vans which are not “environmentally compliant” (i.e. vans which do not have three day tanks etc). One person we meet refused to serve people in one of these vans and expressed a desire for the government to bring in a law banning totally “free camping” and to outlaw non compliant vans.

The Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier is named after the Emperor Franz Josef (not because he visited it but because Fox thought it would be a good idea).

Possibly every tourist who passes through the town visits the glacier, many walk about 15 minutes and view from afar, others about 45 minutes to get as close to the glacier face (about 100m away) as you are safely advised to go. If

Don't go past here

you want to go closer to the ice, there is nothing stopping you other than a few signs and a rope fence.

Glacier Warning

You can take a helicopter up high onto the glacier and then go for a guided walk around or you can fly over it, you can even parachute over it .

Others (such as me) go on one of the many guided climbs / treks / walks offered to or on the Glacier. The theory is that if you go with a trained and qualified guide, you will see more, enjoy it more and come back alive.

When we got up, It was torrential rain– not just rain, it was heavy, very wet, torrential rain. The sky had opened and the rain was coming down harder than a hose on full force. Apparently last year Franz Josef had over 6500mm of rain and it seemed to me that it was having that much of this year’s share that morning. Never-the-less, walks set off for the glacier no matter what the weather, the excuse being given was that “it shows a different view of the glacier” (I thought perhaps a wet one).

Guide Mark

Enter the guide – Mark of “Franz Josef Glacier Guides” (aged all of 23 – so young that he kept calling me “sir”). He told us that “the Glacier is a bit fruity today” and then led a group of 11 rather doubtful travellers out towards the Glacier and through the barriers intended to keep tourists away from the “dangers” of the glacier.

Scree at the bottom

At the base of the glacier is a large scree pile created by the Glacier as it slides down the valley. You climb over this to get to the ice. Since it was still

Waterfalls Valley Side

raining, waterfalls appeared along both sides of the valley in order to keep us wet.

The Glacier

The dark stripes in the ice are created as additional snow gets laid down on top of rock fall debris or ground up valley floor debris (ice berg enthusiasts will remember that if you see debris in an iceberg, you know it has come from a calving glacier).

Glacier with rock

The glacier is  quite an awesome living object

Ice Surface

and on the surface it is not as cold as you imagine. The objective was to climb up the ice to a point roughly

Where we have come from Glacier

2/3rds up this picture and enjoy not only the exercise but

Crevace Traps

also descending into the crevasses which get created as the glacier comes down the valley whilst at the same time, climbing higher.

Cravace Entrance

And so we donned our crampons and descended into the first of many crevasses.

In a crevace

How does one describe walking into a narrowing gap between two ice walls which are towering above you,

Down a crevace

dripping water on you, forcing you to squeeze through narrow gaps, making you hope that your crampons will stick as you climb up a steep ice slope? Fantastic is a suitable starting point (or as they seem to prefer out here, “Awesome”).

Eventually you get to the top for a one minute breather (and the rain stopped) – grateful that going down is easier

at the top     

because of gravity and also because a set of steps have been carved into the ice face for you to follow.

Ice Steps

I got soaked, cold, hot and exhausted but it was a great day and it was something I had never done before and a real challenge.

Thanks Mark, you were brilliant.

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