Flashpacking New Zealand with Stray – Days 12 and 13 – Franz Josef Glacier

The scenic lake between Greymouth and Franz Josef.

The scenic lake between Greymouth and Franz Josef.

Today we not only slept in but left at half-past noon due to one of our activities being canceled.  Normally we would have stopped in Hokitika to check out the greenstone factory and, possibly, carve our own greenstone.  It wasn’t quite clear if we would have just watched or been able to do it ourselves, but it was canceled in any case because the proprietor was out of the country.

Not much to say about today.  We started late, had a nice stop at a lake for some scenic photographs and then a shopping stop before pulling into Franz Josef, the town at the base of the glacier.  As the weather’s been staying nice it looks like our walks and helihikes are on for tomorrow.  An early night of communal dinner and drinks at Rainforest Retreat before we crashed out for the evening.

Franz Josef Glacier as seen after exiting the car park.

Franz Josef Glacier as seen after exiting the car park. We’re still a 40 minute walk from the base.

Day 13 – Franz Josef Glacier!!

We made it and the weather was perfect.  There are a few options for touring the glacier.  You can do a half-day hike which gets you to the bottom of the blue ice, the full-day adventure which takes you a good distance up before turning around, or a helihike where you get dropped off way up the glacier via helicopter and wander with a guide for a couple hours before returning via helicopter.

I’d been hoping the weather would hold out enough to do the helicopter option and was all scheduled to go when disaster struck.  There needs to be a minimum of three people on the tour to make the helicopter go up, and we had four scheduled but two people were no shows, leaving myself and one more out in the cold (pun intended).

One of the crevices we maneuvered through during our hike.

One of the crevices we maneuvered through during our hike. The ice is supposed to be much bluer the further up you go.

As everyone else had gone for the full-day adventure, I had little option but to wait and see if the second helihike of the day would happen.  It too got canceled and I barely managed to get on a half-day hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, which was amazing.  While I wish I could have gotten further up the glacier, it was a great tour and our guide Ned was fantastic.

We wandered through a few caves and crevices in the time we had and learned a bit about the glaciers.  I heard after the fact that I missed a mass snowball fight between the two groups that my bus had been split into, but that was the gamble I took.  Everyone said the full-day adventure was a great option as well.  TIP:  Use their boots and do whatever you can to prevent blisters.

Glacier Hot Pools

With Stray you get a discount on a ton of activities, including the half- and full-day glacier guided tours.   Unfortunately, because of the discount you don’t get the voucher for the Glacier Hot Pools you would normally get if you’d paid full price.  However, don’t let that stop you from paying the fee to get into the public pools.  Three pools at 36, 38 and 40 degrees Celsius really take the edge off after a long day on the glacier.

The portion of the glacier we climbed.

The portion of the glacier we climbed. Only the tip of the iceburg.

After the pools, we headed back to Rainforest Retreat for our second night of communal dinner and drinks.  Tonight Lawrence, aka “lulu”, made chicken tikka masala in one of the better kitchens I’ve seen at a hostel.  Would have hit the spa pool afterword but it was down for repair.  I packed and hit the sack early because I was set to escort the four skyjumpers tomorrow morning for pictures.

Accommodation: Rainforest Retreat
Activity: Franz Josef Glacier Guides 

Go back and read about what happened the previous day or find out what happened next.

The above is posted from the road during the middle of a month long trip through New Zealand with Stray.  If you don’t know who stray is, read the intro to the trip with stray or check out their website.

In an attempt to give you an idea of what the trip is like I’ll be posting like I was writing a journal, but with some practical information in case you want to follow in my footsteps.

DISCLOSURE: I HAVE RECEIVED A DISCOUNTED TOUR PACKAGE  WITH STRAY BUT WILL MAINTAIN AN HONEST OUTLOOK AND PASS ALONG BOTH THE GOOD AND THE BAD AS ACCURATELY AS I CAN.
A room at the Rainforest Retreat in New Zealand.

A room at the Rainforest Retreat in New Zealand. 

All the ladies get a picture by the lake on the way to Franz Josef.

All the ladies get a picture by the lake on the way to Franz Josef.

Our guide Ned giving some tips on how to put on our crampons (the spikes that let us walk the ice).

Our guide Ned giving some tips on how to put on our crampons (the spikes that let us walk the ice).

One of the inquisitive arctic parrots known as Kea that frequently visit the glacier.

One of the inquisitive arctic parrots known as Kea that frequently visit the glacier.

Exiting one of the crevices along our hike.

Exiting one of the crevices along our hike.