A week in the South Island already over; next stop, Franz Josef Glacier. All the way from Christchurch, the drive took around 5+ hours, straight through the middle of the South Island via Arthur’s Pass.
The most direct route to the West Coast is also the only route…
One of our favourite and most memorable moments visiting New Zealand last year was camping right by Lake Pearson. Even if you’re only passing by, it’s a great place to stop off for a break, as it’s just off the main road and offers great views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Arthur’s Pass and Franz Josef Glacier
Arguably the most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps is Arthur’s Pass. There’s a great selection of walks all around the national park, but as we had such a long day of driving, we were only able to take in the views from the car and a few viewpoint stop offs.
There’s one particular stop along the route that everyone should stop at. The famous Otira Viaduct lookout. Gotta get that spectacular view!
Glaciers. That’s what exactly Franz Josef is all about. We had the opportunity to take a 40 minute helicopter ride last year, flying around Mount Cook and other peaks within the Southern Alps. Joe also did the Glacier Explorer walk, you can read about it more here.
On returning this year, we were eagerly excited to get back in a helicopter and see more of the mountain range!
We lucked out with the weather, and were able to experience the Heli Hike with The Helicopter Line. We explored a completely different part of the glacier to where Joe walked last year. With the glacier being one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, the route is changing literally every minute.
The Heli Hike takes a total of two and half hours including flights between the main office and the glacier itself. It’s always so surprising how warm you can get, even though you’re up on a mountain surrounded by ice!
Comparing the walks from last year to our experience this year, in Joe’s opinion, he had a better overall experience last year with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. You get a much more indepth tour and long time walking around on the ice.
All in all, both were great experiences and only make us incredibly eager to explore more glaciers in countries such as Canada or Greenland!
We were the last group on the glacier and the guides were constantly being updated with the changes in the weather. The clouds rapidly came in between the gap of the mountains (known as “the gate”) making it much harder for the helicopters to come and pick up us up.
While we were waiting, I was getting worried we’d have to camp in the emergency hut up in the mountain. But that rarely happens, according to the guides.
As the clouds kept coming in, it was SO white, I couldn’t see a thing!
I’m honestly not sure how the pilot was even able to find us, land and take us back.
Straight after our flight, we drove about 3 hours to Wanaka through the golden hour which was perfect timing.
One thing we regretted not doing was stopping off at Lake Matheson, as it looks exceptional. It’s known for amazing reflections of the mountains in the still waters of the lake. But sadly, we really had to get a move on as it was getting dark quite quickly and we still had a few hours of mountainous driving ahead of us.
If you’re looking for a great spot to see the sunset in Lake Wanaka, Beacon Point is a super peaceful place to relax and walk around.
Follow our 6 week New Zealand road trip itinerary—including accommodation and activities across the North and South Islands—starting with a flight from Brisbane to Auckland with Air New Zealand.
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