Our trajectory in the South Island, after being as far north as Abel Tasman, is to head south along the west coast until we reach the Fiordlands. After we reach the southwest corner, we will head back up towards Christchurch, where we will ultimately depart New Zealand.
The first stop on the journey South was five and half hours away from Abel Tasman. We have endless podcasts of Joe Rogan but are currently up to date on Serial so concluded an audiobook might be in order. We agreed a mystery would be a great distraction for a long drive. And… who tells a better story than Stephen King? Exploiting the strong wifi at our last stay, we downloaded the whopping 30 hour audio book 11.22.63. Now that we were sufficiently supplied with content, we began our journey to the town of Franz Josef.
The main attraction at Frans Josef are the two visible glaciers, Frans Josef and Fox. These glaciers are about 30 minutes from each other. The town of Franz Josef is modest in size, so accommodations were solidly booked, which meant we ended up booking a YHA hostel- not the worst but not ideal. From our perspective, the small town is set up specifically for touring the glaciers, heli-hiking, and skydiving and not a whole lot more.
We arrived around dinner time, checked into our “dorm” and went to a local restaurant called Snakebite. The drizzling rain and low clouds covered the surrounding mountains with a thick fog at their peaks.
We spent an exhilarating evening back in the common room finalizing our South Island plans. It’s high season and we were soon embarking on very popular locations and activities needed advance booking. Can’t expose what we booked yet (unless our readers are the type to read the last page of a book before the first. You let us know!)
The next morning, well rested and ready to get out of the hostel, we started exploring. To our disappointment, the weather was overcast and seemed to be getting worse. Nate was concerned mostly because he had a skydiving appointment over the glaciers which was postponed until further notice. Adjusting to the change of plans, we started at Frans Josef Glacier. You can drive to a car park and hike up to the glacier, but can’t hike closer than half a mile away. This is for safety purposes, because the glacier has receded over a mile since it was first discovered about 100 years ago.
The moderate hike is an hour and a half return. There are several waterfalls along the approach and the landscape has an incredible display of orange and green rocks. (Or regular gray rocks with some sort of green and orange fungus growing on them).
It started to rain harder on our hike down, so we figured we would stop into the skydiving company location on our way to lunch to check in on the inevitable status. They crushed Nate’s dreams of free falling over a glacier by canceling all jumps that day and the next day. We forged ahead.
Towns like this are places we really like to save our money. We know we aren’t going to have the greatest meal of our life or the best night out so with this mentality, we stopped at the local grocery store to pick up a few items to complete some meals we had left over from our last location. We made sandwiches (again) and jumped in the car to see Fox Glacier.
The hike to Fox Glacier was only an hour hike return, but more challenging. There is a quarter of a mile that is steep and rocky and you aren’t allowed to stop due to loose rocks from above. I had the bright idea of sprinting up it before I realized:
This was the closest I had seen a glacier, so to me the experience was well worth it. The views of the mountains and the glacier surely could have been better if the weather was clear so if you plan to make the trip, take that into consideration. Nate had seen glaciers in Patagonia as well as hiked on them so he was less enthused. Unfortunately, the only way to get closer than we did is to hike them but they are only accessible by helicopter. This was cost prohibitive for us since it is $500 per person. Bucket list item for sure and we will be back to do it!
The town is limited during rainy weather and barricading fog so we took advantage of the hot pools at a nearby spa. For $26NZD you can relax in three “glacial water pools”. The three temperature options are best described as lukewarm bath water (Liz’s favorite), hot tub hot ( Nate’s favorite) and one that is in between.
After goofing around in each temperature, we took our pruned selves back to our accommodation for another home cooked meal and a movie on the IPad- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
All in all, our trip to Frans Josef was less exciting than we had anticipated. On the positive side, we are well rested and full of energy for our upcoming 6 nights which will reveal the reason we chose this beautiful country!