It is unfortunate that the weather on the West Coast is so bad. The drive between Hokitika and Franz Josef was mostly strong winds and rain. A few hours after we arrived there was a break in the rain so we raced to see Franz Josef Glacier before night fell. The combination of being the only people there and the dusk light created a peaceful viewing. It’s a good thing we made it that first night; we had hoped to do one more short Franz Josef hike on Wednesday morning before we left the coast but the weather was so terrible that we just hit the road.
This meant that we had one good day in Glacier Country. Tuesday morning was consumed with the excitement of skydiving, but after the celebratory drinks we still had half the day left to explore – even if we were a bit tipsy for the first hike.
Hike 1 was to a viewpoint of Fox Glacier. The 1 hr 30 min return hike was a fun challenge: it started with an uphill climb through forest that led us to a rocky terrain, where we had to figure out how to traverse a glacial river before we could continue through more trees to the lookout. We ran into an Aussie duo and together the five of us figured out the best rocks to jump across and hopefully not fall in. We were successful. The trail ended at a wooden platform with a view of the whole Fox Glacier.
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are both in beautiful settings, but unfortunately they have receded a lot in the past 100 years. Having been lucky enough to see some impressive glaciers in the Alps in Austria and Switzerland, I can’t say that these were the best to me. I think of them more as part of a larger spectacular mountain range.
Hike 2 was around Lake Matheson. This loop stroll is recommended for the mirror-like lake that reflects its backdrop of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook. It was now late afternoon and our adrenaline had calmed down, so this was a tranquil walk with plenty of viewpoints to stop and take in the surroundings. Just your usual gorgeous New Zealand landscape.
We made it back to the hostel, Chateau Franz, in time to have the free vegetable soup for dinner. This hostel had some great perks: it included soup at 6, breakfast till 10, popcorn all afternoon, unlimited wifi, and international phone calls, plus a hot tub. We were hoping to relax in the hot tub that night but it was unfortunately more of a luke warm tub so we opted for a movie night instead. The next morning Frank and I said bye to Josi; she was going to hang out for a couple more days and hopefully get in another hike or two. It was more of a see you later than a goodbye though: we would reunite in Queenstown that weekend.
However our back seat did not remain empty. We met our new travel buddy JB at our hostel in Franz Josef. He was on his way to Queenstown and we were going to Wanaka, which is 3/4 of the way to Queenstown, so we offered to take him there. Typical New Zealand travel story.