After dealing with the crazy weather that was the West Coast of the South Island, we have finally arrived in Franz Josef, a small vacation town located near a glacier with the same name. The beautiful mountain range is what defined the South Island for me and with the view of the Southern Alps, it was the first town that made me feel like I was actually in the South Island.
"Now, this is the South Island I have been waiting for!"
I shouted to myself and then without hesitation, I went out at night to get my first glimpse of the Southern Alp.
Looking for a complete itinerary for New Zealand? A Month In New Zealand On A Budget.
- New Zealand Travel Video
- Where to Stay in Franz Josef
- Walk Around Franz Josef Town
- Ice Climbing Tour with Ice Explorer
- Getting to Franz Josef Glacier on Foot
- Hitchhiking for the First Time in New Zealand
- Ice Climbing the Franz Josef Glacier with Ice Explorer
- Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
New Zealand Travel Video
Where to Stay in Franz Josef
During my time in Franz Josef, I stayed at the Glow Worm Cottages, a somewhat old looking hostel with decent facilities including hot tub, main kitchen, and free unlimited internet. I was surprised to see a little kitchen and a bathroom built into the dorm room though. I was grateful for it though because the rooms are separated into cottages and If the bathroom was not in my room, I would have frozen to death on my way back from showering. The staff were nice and can arrange any tour you want in the area for you.
One beef I had with this place was that the so-called TV room was equipped with a VCR machine and all movies are in VCR.. in freaking 2014. You could imagine how old the movies available were. A little upgrade in this area would be nice.
Walk Around Franz Josef Town
After buying all my groceries at the only available supermarket (4 Square), I found this little trail that I hoped would lead me to an outlook point of the mountains. Unfortunately, it didn't. It was simply a dead end trail without any rewarding view whatsoever. So here are the lesson kids, New Zealand's walk, no matter how good they are at making them, they can still make mistakes.
Night was approaching fast and like most New Zealand's towns, it became a ghost town, which I didn't mind at all.
It gave me great joy to stare at the calmness of a mountain at night.
Ice Climbing Tour with Ice Explorer (First attempt Failed)
I had my mind set for the mountains the next day as I went back to the hostel and booked an "Ice Explorer" tour for an early morning ice climb. The tour consisted of 10 minutes of flight time over the Glacier and 3 hours ice time.
I woke up early in the morning with great anticipation for my first ice climbing experience, but with all great anticipation came a twist. The flight was postponed until 9AM and as I waited anxiously, it was postponed again until 12.
I wasn't able to grasp why it was postponed on such a beautiful sunny day. As it turned out, it was too windy in the valley and the pilot didn't want to risk it. I decided to stop waiting around and walked to the glacier by foot (you can take the bus but I like the freedom of moving at my own pace).
Getting to Franz Josef Glacier on Foot
The walk began along the side of the road, I crossed the bridge and walked along the milky-colored river. At this point, I had no idea how long it would take me to walk to the glacier and back but it didn't matter for me as long as I didn't waste my limited time in New Zealand, waiting and doing nothing.
It looked pretty far so the idea of hitchhiking did cross my mind a couple of times. After all, I would have to go back before 12 to see if the tour would be canceled or not.
Deep inside, I knew it would be canceled and since I originally planned to be in Franz Josef for only 2 nights, I had another big decision to make. Should I give up the idea and move on with my trip or gave Franz Josef another go by extending my stay?
It was one hour in and I still couldn't see the glacier. I was starting to get nervous that I might not be able to go back in time.
An hour and a half later, the glacier started to come into view.
I was a little surprise to see the glacier retreated almost half way up the valley instead of covering the whole valley like it was shown in the photo took in 2007.
At this rate, all the ice on the Franz Josef glacier will have all been melted in less than 40 years. Global warming is really taking its toll here.
The funny thing is New Zealand is the country that care most about their nature and yet they seem to be the one most affected by global warming. The pollution must have come from other countries.
But at least I was there to witness it before it melted away even more.
"Oh, shit! it's 11:30 now!" and I had 2 hours of walk ahead of me. There was no way I would make it back in time by foot.
Hitchhiking for the First Time in New Zealand
In Asia, hitchhiking is nonexistant. No one does it ever and the idea of trusting strangers were so foreign to me that I dismissed the idea altogether. That changed when desperation took over my fear and I decided to go for it. Several minutes passed as I looked at 5 cars passed me by, I thought to myself that this was hopeless. Suddenly, one car stopped and I ran as quickly as I could in excitement and asked them if they could drop me off at the town center. They said "Hop on" without hesitation and off I went.
What I learned from my experience hitchhiking is that patience is the key and don't take it personally when someone didn't pick you up. I also learned that people who picked hitchhikers up are usually people who had done it before and know how frustrating it gets. These people are great storytellers and I bet they all have great life stories to tell along the way. My advice would be to go for it. It is scary but rewarding.
Your faith in humanity will be restored after your first successful hitchhike.
I was back at the Franz Josef Glacier office right on time, but as I expected, it was canceled. I admitted it was a little frustrating to have my plan ruined by the weather. Nevertheless, I understood the precaution they took and I accepted the outcome. In the end, I decided to extend my stay and gave the tour another go. Best decision I have ever made.
It was that night that I met Viola and Megan, whom I would be traveling with several times throughout the south island. We shared a room together and naturally, I started talking to them and expressed my frustration over the cancellation of my glacier trip. One talk led to another, and we somehow hit it off and were laughing all night. We talked about our mishap in the mountains, we tried to figure out how to use a VCR machine to watch The Matrix, the only cool movie that they had, and we laughed at all the cringe-worthy outdated action moves and bewildered by the fact that we used to find them cool.
It was quite amazing to think that 3 people from 3 different origins would share such a similar comedic taste. From spending 2 nights with them, I was sure that this friendship was special and I was not wrong.
Ice Climbing the Franz Josef Glacier with Ice Explorer (Success!)
The next morning, I decided to give the ice climb a go again. I went to their office and bought the tour for 325 NZD. The weather didn't look good though so I had little hope at that point.
And as easy as that, it was not canceled and I was on a helicopter up Franz Josef glacier in no time, feeling every excited and accomplished.
We were taught to attach the provided crampons to a shoe they gave us before we boarded the helicopter.
There were 2 guides with us on the glacier, one to lead the way and one to assist people struggling to climb.
Walking with crampons were a little difficult at first but I got used to it in no time.
There were multiple paths where I had to climb up an ice using a rope.
The scale of the glacier became clearer as we went up higher and higher.
The ice axe were used by the guides to clear the way and carved stairs for us to walk on. It looked so much fun but I hesitated to ask if I could try it in fear of making a fool of myself.
Walking on a glacier is not easy and requires you to have some level of fitness. It was a lot of climbing steep ices and going through narrow passages that drained my energy.
Before I was up there, the glacier seem so insignificant, but now that I had a person for scale, it was so massive in comparison.
I am glad that I decided to extend my stay. I learned a lot from climbing Franz Josef glacier, eventhough there were guides hand-holding us through out the trip. I looked at it as a good preparation for when the time comes for me to summit a mountain in Alaska in the future.
At one point we had the option to go through an extremely narrow passage between 2 ices or go around it. I, of course, went for the small passage and as I was trying to adjust my posture to fit in between those ices, I found myself stuck. Everyone's worst nightmare is the moment when you realized you are stuck in between 2 ices that weighed several tons, and you cant go back. I literally had to bend every parts of my body to slid through it. Thank god for the frictionless ice, because without them, I would be stuck there forever!
After a good 3 hours, I was completely out of energy and ready for a nap. We ended the climb, took a helicopter down from the glacier and I went back to the hostel to meet Viola and Megan for dinner. Since they weren't very excited about the glacier as much as I did (they are from Europe), they went to the Kiwi museum instead.
Since we were all leaving Franz Josef the next day to Wanaka, we decided to go to bed early and hoped that we would meet each other again in someday. The next morning I said goodbye to Megan and Viola and off I went to Wanaka, which will be explored in the next chapter of my New Zealand trip. Stay tuned.
Continue Reading the Next Part: One Day in Wanaka.
Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
I’ve spent 5 weeks backpacking in New Zealand and I have written a ton more about my journey traveling throughout New Zealand from the North Island to the South Island that you might help in your trip planning.
Here’s a selection of articles about New Zealand:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to spend one month in New Zealand on a budget? A Month In New Zealand On A Budget - The Perfect Backpacking Itinerary.
- New Zealand has a special place in my heart. It is one of the most memorable trips I have ever done and here are 10 things I love about New Zealand.
- If you are planning to start traveling in New Zealand from North to South, Rotorua is a great place to visit on your way South from Auckland. Here is a travel guide on things to do in Rotorua.
- Did you know that you can climb Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings in real life? Along the Tongariro Crossing trail, you have the option to summit Mount Ngauruhoe which was used as a reference for Mount Doom in the movie. Here a travel guide on how to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in one day.
- Crossing from the North Island of New Zealand to the South is an experience in and of itself. See how to cross from the North Island to the South Island in New Zealand here.
- One of the first big city you will travel in the South Island is Nelson which has a laid-back vibe while Motueka, a sister town makes a great base to traveling to Abel Tasman National Park. Here’s a quick travel guide on things to do in Nelson and Motueka.
- One of the best Great Walk you can do is in the Abel Tasman National Park and you can do parts of it in one day. Here’s a complete guide on how to hike parts of the Abel Tasman Great Walk in one day.
- The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is not very popular among travelers, making it a great place to go off the beaten path. Here’s a travel guide on things to do, and where to go in West Port, New Zealand.
- You must have a seen photo of a lone tree in a lake with beautiful mountains as a background somewhere. That’s in Wanaka, New Zealand and here’s travel guide on things to do in Wanaka in one day.
- Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. If your body can endure it, you can find it in Queenstown. Here’s a 3 days itinerary on things to do in Queenstown.
- Queenstown is also one of the best places in the world to go skydiving. Here’s my experience skydiving with the NZONE in Queenstown.
- The Milford Sound is touristy, there’s no denying it and you are not wrong to be skeptical but I can assure you, it is worth the hype. Here’s a travel guide on which cruise to pick for the Milford Sound and how to get there.
- One of the best Great Walk in New Zealand you can do is the Routeburn Track. Here’s a complete 3 days itinerary and travel guide on how to trek the Routeburn Track.
- Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and the best way to see it is to hike the Hooker Valley trail. Here’s a travel guide on visiting Mt. Cook and hiking the Hooker Valley trail.
- Dunedin is a great place to end your trip in New Zealand. After all the adventure you have been through, here’s how to spend 5 days in Dunedin, taking it slow and seeing the city at your own leisure.
- Not convinced by my words about New Zealand? Come follow me and I’ll show you New Zealand in 70 photos.
- You can see all my New Zealand travel guides and related articles on my New Zealand Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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