There’s no denying the South Island is one of the most beautiful parts of the world and while I may be a little bias, driving through my homeland’s Southern Alps region leaves me taken aback each and every time.
I have no shame in admitting that I love an epic adventure. Whenever there’s an opportunity to hike a mountain, jump off a bridge, get up close and personal with a volcano or scale a Glacier for that matter, you can count my camera and I in.
Having grown up in Auckland, I didn’t get the chance to explore the South very much, until now. The Franz Josef Glacier is a 12 km long glacier and if you find yourself here, it’s for this one reason only. The village was built for and around the glacier and is a cosy tourist settlement with all the necessities – bars, cafes, gift stores, a cinema, friendly locals and hot pools for when you’ve got some down time. The west coast is known for its wild weather, and should you find that mother nature’s not co-operating, there’s plenty of relaxing activities to keep you entertained.
Roughly 18,000 years ago, the Glacier itself stretched all the way to the ocean. Since then it’s advanced and retreated, and scientists believe that in the next 80 years or so, it will retreat about 40 percent. A small reminder that if you have the opportunity to witness this incredible work of nature in your lifetime, you really must.
Getting to the Glacier Region
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The glacier region sits on the west side of Mount Cook, the towering 3,700 meter high mountain and descend down from the Southern Alps.
Franz Josef is a four and a half hour drive north of Queenstown, or a two hour drive south from Hokitika. Whichever way you choose to drive in, you’ll be spoilt with the most stunning of drives. Through wetlands, transcending mountain ranges, waterfall covered cliffs and quiet roads, it’s a place where you can’t help but stop to appreciate your surroundings and the fresh air. Be sure to make time for photo stops, any and all fish and chip shops and necessary espressos.
I flew from Auckland to Christchurch, and then over the Southern Alps into Hokitika airport where I picked up a rental car and started making my way through the wetlands to Franz Josef Village. Whenever flying around New Zealand, I suggest flying during daylight and to always ask for the window seat. There’s nothing better than snow drenched mountains from above.
If you’ve got the time, just outside of Hokitika lies the Hokitika gorge which is a 15 minute return walk from the car park and a good stretch for the legs before the car drive. It’s a turquoise blue oasis that looks even better to the naked eye.