Climbing Franz Josef Glacier 90 years ago: Never-before-seen photos


We love seeing photos of you on the Franz Josef Glacier! Especially when they go back as far as 1927.

Victoria Jaenecke sent us these photos of her grandmother, Doris Verity (nee Kelland), on the Franz Josef Glacier 90 years ago. Doris was 20 years old at the time and was joined by her parents, three siblings and two cousins for this adventure on the ice.

The Kelland party was taken up the Franz Josef Glacier by five guides, including Peter Graham, a mountaineering great and tourism pioneer. Along with his brother Alec, Peter was responsible for introducing thousands of visitors to mountains and glaciers.

You'll see from Doris' photos that the adventure was as much the journey to Franz Josef as it was being on the ice itself.

The Kelland family travelled from their home, a 25,000-acre farm in the Mackenzie country, to Franz Josef in two cars, a Hudson and a Rover. It seems the boys were in one, with the girls in the other… and the boys got stuck in a river and had to be rescued by the girls!

Tourism on the Franz Josef Glacier began in 1897, when William Batson opened a hostel in Franz Josef and started offering guided glacier excursions. In 1907, he built a small hotel near his hostel.

In 1911, Alec Graham and his brother Jim bought Batson's hotel (the Franz Josef Glacier Hotel), marking the Graham family’s four-decade commitment to tourism in the area.

Eleven years on, Peter joined his brothers in Franz Josef after 16 years of guiding at The Hermitage, Aoraki/Mt Cook. Peter and Alec transformed Franz Josef from a mining town to a world-renowned tourist town.

In the 1920s, visitors were able to walk a round-trip excursion of the glacier. Peter and Alec created a range of tracks and excursions catering to all levels of ability. Many consider the brothers' greatest achievement to be the network of huts and tracks they built throughout the region.

Their success led to over 2000 visitors staying at the hotel every year. Unfortunately this success also meant the hotel became too big for the Graham family to run, so it was sold to the Government in 1947.

In 1990, the Government sold the hotel and guiding interest by public tender. It was won by Mark Mellsop, who began Franz Josef Glacier Guides, targeting the adventure tourism market.

Mark entered into a joint venture with Ngāi Tahu Tourism in 2003. Two years later, Ngāi Tahu Tourism took full ownership of Franz Josef Glacier Guides.

Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors follow in Doris’ footsteps every year, spending time on the ice with our passionate and knowledgeable guides. 

Words and photos via