Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: remembering our first glacier

with 26 comments

A year ago today we visited the Franz Josef Glacier on the west side of New Zealand’s South Island. A summer morning it was, and therefore touristy, but we found a space in the crowded carpark and set out on the 5.5-km round-trip hike to the glacier. We first glimpsed it from far away, when tree ferns were more prominent.

Then we kept on to the end of the trail, which left us still a bit removed from the foot of the glacier. That was the time to pull out a telephoto lens, as I did for the picture below. This was the first glacier we’d ever seen in person, so naturally we were impressed. There’s something special about glacial ice’s pastel blue hue.

As a photographer I’m at least as interested in the small things as the prominent ones. Below are five close looks at formful and colorful details that caught my fancy on the hike.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 20, 2018 at 4:39 AM

26 Responses

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  1. The first landscape is so beautiful with the prehistoric tree ferns, the snow-capped mountains and the blue sky. As if man has never touched foot in this land. Then the details: the patterns, the textures, that sulphuric acid yellow (algae?), the rusty orange. Well noticed 🙂

    How difficult was the hike Steve?


    February 20, 2018 at 5:17 AM

    • When we visited the Canadian Rockies half a year later we saw many more glaciers, but of course not a single tree fern. I don’t know whether in a place like Ecuador you can also find that combination, which sure was striking in New Zealand. And striking, of course, on a smaller scale, were the many patterns and textures like the five shown here.

      The hike wasn’t bad. The uphill parts, which are never all that steep, mostly come on the way to the glacier, when one is freshest; the walk back from the glacier is therefore welcomingly easier. Another advantage is that the foot of Franz Josef Glacier is near the coast. In contrast, some of the scenic hikes we took in the Canadian Rockies were at oxygen-robbing altitudes that had me walking slowly and pausing periodically.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 6:43 AM

  2. so beautiful, amazing colours and patterns in nature…. Thank you, Love, nia


    February 20, 2018 at 5:22 AM

    • You’re welcome. There were so many interesting things, large and small, that I stopped in lots of places to take pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 6:45 AM

  3. Beautiful area for artists and looks like a fascinating area for geologists, too.

    Robert Parker

    February 20, 2018 at 5:27 AM

    • And for photographers (unless you’ve already counted them among artists). I gather from what I see online that geologists have spent a lot of time studying the Southern Alps, the mountain chain in which Franz Josef Glacier is located.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 6:53 AM

  4. Inspirational, showing nature’s abstractions and variations through intimate views.


    February 20, 2018 at 7:46 AM

    • Glad to hear the pictures inspired you. The many small things were bonuses that neither our guidebook nor any online source had prepared me for. The one hint, and a retroactive one it is, were some interesting rocks lining walkways on the grounds of the hotel.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 8:02 AM

  5. The detail you captured is quite stunning. Those tree ferns do not seem to fit with that chilling background in the landscape photo. It looks tropical… but not. It makes me curious about the ecosystem in that region.


    February 20, 2018 at 8:41 AM

    • I think that with the exception of New Zealanders almost everyone is surprised to find tree ferns in the same picture with a glacier. My impression of the ecosystem in that region is that there are actually many, with various microclimates created by the configurations of the land, the altitude, the proximity to the glacier, etc.

      When we were there it was summer and the weather was quite pleasant, which is why so many other people were there too. On the other hand, the region that includes Franz Josef Glacier is far enough south that it undergoes real winter.

      Here’s some more information:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 9:00 AM

  6. That must have been a very pretty hike!


    February 20, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    • It was, and not arduous. We spent at least three hours on it, including all the times I stopped to take pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 8:50 AM

  7. Beautiful, and as promised you gave me blue ice to go with the pink snow. Loving all those colors and forms in the the rocks and moss. I was uncertain about the composition of the first gray photo. Rock with crystals?


    February 20, 2018 at 9:55 PM

    • The French have a saying: Chose promise, chose due; Something promised, something due.

      It can be hard to interpret blog-sized photos. It’s not crystals but pale lichens you’re seeing in the gray picture. They’re growing on rock layers that have been turned a full 90°.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 20, 2018 at 10:54 PM

  8. When I visited Alaska’s Glacier Bay, the glaciers we cruised among were marked by that same beautiful blue. If I had to pick just one memory from that landscape to keep, it might be the ice — although the Orca whales were compelling. On the other hand, the combination of tree ferns and glaciers is one of those juxtapositions that hardly seem possible, and that make New Zealand’s uniqueness obvious.

    I’m especially fond of the swirls in the third detailed photo, and the strong sense of flow there. Your photo of the reddish growth on the rocks made me wonder if it might be the same as some I photographed on the Willow City Loop. Surely not, but the appearance is similar.


    February 21, 2018 at 8:16 AM

    • I’d seen that glacial blue for decades in photographs and television documentaries, so it was high time to see it in person. An episode in a geology series we recently worked our way through highlighted Glacier Bay; you’re fortunate to have experienced it for real.

      The swirls you singled out in the third detailed photograph characterize a lot of the rocks we saw near the glacier and again a few days later on the shore of Lake Wakatipu.

      In Texas I’ve never seen small reddish lichens like the ones so common near the glacier. If there are any in Texas like that, I assume they’d be a different species, given the very different climates and the huge distance apart.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2018 at 9:43 AM

  9. Wonderful collection of images Steve .. 😃


    February 24, 2018 at 1:01 PM

  10. I particularly like the last one. You really have a good eye for the abstract. Incidentally, I read that the ice on Lake Michigan has turned blue. I’d love to see it but I think they mean at the top of the lake, some 5 hours north of here. Down at this end the ice has mostly melted.


    March 8, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    • Thanks. You’re the only person who’s commented on the last picture. Yes, I’m crazy for abstractions.

      Maybe you can get together with one or more people to go up to the north end of the lake and see the blue ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 8, 2018 at 9:28 AM

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