At New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a park ranger provides an update on daily conditions and safety tips.
The life-size image is a cardboard cut-out, but the ranger is real. His mother told me so.
I met Nolly Martini when I visited her Willows Crafts shop in Harihari, a tiny hamlet about 40 miles north of Franz Josef on New Zealand’s South Island.
I was attracted to the hand-knitted hats and scarves, and she told me that she makes many of them from wool and Samoyed dog hair. She also sells crafts made by other local residents.
As I paid for a colorful hat made by Martini, she told me that her son posed for the cardboard cut-out when he worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The proud mother pulled out photographs of Mark Martini standing next to his cardboard double. (The DOC confirmed it.)
Sure enough, Mark Martini’s image greets me when I arrive at Franz Josef Glacier later that day. (See photo at top.) The DOC told me that his image also graces the nearby Fox Glacier.
Tourism is one of New Zealand’s main economic engines. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the country’s biggest tourist attractions, with about 1 million visitors a year.
But in recent years, the two glaciers have been melting so fast that visitors — alone or with a guide — can no longer walk right up to the faces and onto the faces because of risks such as falling ice and rock. Franz Josef Glacier has retreated by nearly a half mile since 2008.
Visitors can take a helicopter ride to hike around the top of the glacier and through ice tunnels, or they can walk to a viewing point to see the terminal face. I decided to skip the heli-hike because it was raining and cloudy the day I visited Franz Josef, but I an added an extra walk.
I strolled through a lush rainforest on the 5.4-mile (round trip) Te Ara a Waiau Walkway/Cycleway. The flat and easy trail connects with the 3.3-mile (round trip) Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk, the main trail to the glacier’s terminal face. Visitors can skip the rainforest and drive to the start of the main walk.
Te Ara a Waiau starts from State Highway 6 at the southern end of Franz Josef village just past the old visitor center (you can park there). My travel companion and I walked along the road for a short stretch before crossing over the Waiho River bridge to pick up a marked path that runs along the left side of the Glacier Access Road for about a mile. The walk improved as we entered the emerald green rainforest, filled with ferns and palm trees. Rain made it even more wondrous.
We popped out at the parking lot for the Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk, which winds through a forest and along a riverbed. The easy path becomes a bit rockier and rougher as it climbs, but each bend offers better views of the glacier.
At the end, another cardboard Mark Martini warns visitors to stay behind a rope barrier and not to venture any closer to the glacier.
Before a walk, check weather and trail conditions at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre, 69 Cron St., 03-752-0360, or the i-Site tourism office, 63 Cron St., 03-442 3286, in Franz Josef.