So on to day 7 of my recommended road trip around the South Island of New Zealand…
Day 7 – Wanaka to Haast/Fox Glacier
In the morning, head out of Wanaka and make your way to Haast where you’ll find yourself on yet another stunning drive through Haast Pass. The road trails the Haast river and you’ll be wanting to make various stops, enticed by road-side signs that hint at the next stunning waterfall or a beautiful, ice blue river. If I’m honest I didn’t spend a lot of time in Haast itself but I do know that it sits within the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area and I met plenty of people who were enthusiastic about the tramping there. You can decide to lay rest here (and it is a very small but functional settlement) or make the 2 hour drive further north to Fox. The latter option will give you a head start on the day ahead.
Day 8 – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier
Today you get to hike a glacier which, I have to say, is an awesome experience. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to glaciers in New Zealand and many people struggle to decide whether to go for Fox or Franz Josef. Personally, I decided to hike on Fox and then do some of the trails around Franz Josef to check out the various viewpoints. Why Fox? Because it is much less crowded, marginally cheaper but, quite frankly, they both look very similar. They are certainly awesome to look at. They’re a bit special too and I’m told they are the fastest moving glaciers in the world. Despite being around since the last ice age, the Fox Glacier is currently advancing at one metre a week. It’s amazing to think that something with so much history is changing so rapidly.
You can choose to do either a half day or full day hike. With a half day hike you only get 2 hours time on the ice as it takes an hour to get to the glacier and an hour to get back. So a full day really represents much better value as the whole extra 4 hours you’ll get will be spent on the ice. And as it costs just an extra $30 it really is well worth the extra money. Although if you have a bit of extra cash to blow then I would go for the heli-hike where a helicopter drops you half way up the glacier to commence you’re hike. You’ll enjoy some awesome views from above and higher up on the glacier.
One word of warning though. DO NOT go past the safety barriers and approach the terminal face without a guide. Due to the constant changes these glaciers can be unstable. Tragically, two Australians died at Fox just weeks before I arrived after more than 100 tonnes of ice fell on them. This tragic event should serve as a warning to all planning on visiting the glaciers.
Spend the evening in the Franz-Josef village, which is that bit more livelier than Fox.
Day 9 – Franz Josef Glacier
I’d recommend spending today walking some of the trails around the Franz Josef glacier. You’ll find some awesome viewpoints. The Sentinel Rock trail provides a nice view and is a very short, 20 minute walk. The Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere trail will get you as close as you can get to the terminal face without a guide. Both are accessible from the glacier car park.
But for the best views, walk the trail to the top of Alex Knob: one of the peaks that over-looks Franz Josef. The walk itself takes you through a moss-covered woodland that looks like something out of fairy-tale. At the top the views are truly spectacular and, as few people hike this trail, you can expect to have this view all to yourself. Just be careful that you don’t let cloud cover spoil it. It tends to set around mid-afternoon. And I should warn you that the walk can be up to an 8 hour round trip so come prepared!
Eventually, you’re gonna have to leave this magical, tranquil spot. When you do, make your way back to the Franz Josef village where you’re probably going to want to hit the hay and spend the night sleeping like a baby!