Oct 6th- 9th
Located on the South Islands West coast, 2 hours from Westport and 4 hours from Wanaka, lies the township and Glacier of the same name - Franz Josef.
Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865 by geologist Julius von Haast, who named it in honour of the Austrian emperor. The glacier is five kilometres from the town and you can walk to the base of the glacier in around 40-60 minutes. Or take a tour like we did, many companies offer a similar range of options.
We chose Franz Josef Glacier Guides and went on the 'Glacier Heli Hike'. Firstly you go to the store to register and meet your guide, you’re given a safety orientation and provided with protective gear including jacket, trousers, woolen hat, gloves and leather boots with crampons in preparation for the tour. We also wore warm comfy clothing underneath.
Then you ride in a helicopter with stunning aerial views over New Zealand's Southern Alps and surrounding areas to land atop of the glacier (even just a few years back you would have climbed up the glacier rather than helicopter but the glacier is melting rapidly and now helicopter is required). Along with your guide it's small groups of 11 persons and the guide will lead you with the help of your ice axe round the dramatic ice formations, clamber inside ice caves and caverns and seracs. It is moderately difficult 3 hour hike, with spectacular and dramatic landscapes. With insight from your guide, you’ll understand the various geological forces at play in this otherworldly environment.
The whole tour lasts over 4 hours and costs $449 (£248) which although expensive is a once in a life time experience, and as I mentioned the glacier is being reclaimed by nature and won't be around forever.
After the return flight, unwind with a rejuvenating soak at the Glacier Hot Pools, situated in a rainforest haven at the edge of town. The soothing hot pools are fed by pure glacier water, a lovely end to a thrilling day. With our tour the hot pool entry was free.
We had our tent to camp but struggled to find a campsite so checked into the YHA hostel at Cron Street, the main road full of accommodation, and paid $42 pn.