Reflections of Christmas: Roadtrip to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Still reflections of Lake Matheson

Still reflections of Lake Matheson

Hokitika > Franz Josef Glacier > Lake Matheson > Fox Glacier

Spotting ice during a summer Christmas… sounds a little unusual right? Well last Christmas I did just that during my roadtrip in New Zealand’s South Island.

Road trippin’ to Franz Josef

The beautiful west coast of New Zealand changed from lush green surrounds to pearly blue waters as I drove down the coast further. There was still plenty of forest and nature, but less coastal ocean landscapes. But it just gets more beautiful… trust me.

Driving the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Driving the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Driving the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Driving the West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier

Sadly the weather decided I wasn’t meant to do my Heli hike on the glacier, so instead I took the valley route to hike to Franz Josef Glacier’s base.

Rewind a few years and I felt like I was back in Argentina hiking around El Chalten’s Glaciers! It really is incredible how much New Zealand reminds me of places I’ve visited all around the world. Yet, we have all this in our 2-3 little islands!

I opted to stay in a private room at a backpackers since it was Christmas and boy was that a good choice, given how much rain poured down on Christmas Day! The view pre-rain was very pretty from the township though!

View outside my hostel

View outside my hostel in Franz Josef

Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

The valley walk is a decent 45min walk each way, with not much shade. It’s worth taking plenty of sunscreen (it is New Zealand after all) and water. I drove to the carpark, but if you’re up for a decent walk you can walk from the Franz Josef township.

The valley leading to Franz Josef Glacier is wide and rocky. Sadly the glaciers in New Zealand keep on receding every year and its incredible to walk through the valley and think that this was once all glacier covered.

Valley that Franz Josef Glacier is in

Valley that Franz Josef Glacier is in

I was treated to several beautiful waterfalls on the way leading to a beautiful clear water stream. Pretty sure you could drink the water, but with my history (cringe South America) I wasn’t game to try.

The glacier itself is beautiful. It may not be as big as Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, but it is still astounding.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Waterfalls, Franz Josef Glacier

Waterfalls, Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Christmas Day: Lake Matheson and Fox Glacier (pre-rain)

Christmas Day on your own in a touristy town, what to do right?

I decided to speed up the next day’s trip south, I’d visit Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson – just a 30 minute drive from Franz Josef township. I even picked up my first hitch hiker! A guy from France – felt sorry for him hitch hiking on Christmas Day when most people would be home with their families and friends. Turns out it was actually nice to have someone to chat to on Christmas Day for a bit too!

Walking trail around Lake Matheson

Walking trail around Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson minus the reflections

The beautiful and widely known Lake Matheson was a must-see destination, though I didn’t quite realise why until Boxing Day. I opted to walk around Lake Matheson taking photographs at all the scenic viewpoints, out across the lake to Aoraki Mount Cook.

It was a nice thing to do on Christmas Day, to be amongst nature and think of my Dad.

However, the reflections weren’t meant to be. With the weather packing in, the lake was not the still calm that it needed to be for the much desired reflections.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

Me at Fox Glacier

Me at Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Onwards, I decided it was time to check out the second glacier in the area – Fox Glacier. It felt like the walk wasn’t quite as long as Franz Josef, but I don’t think it was as pretty either.

The last part of the hike was pretty steep and I was glad to be wearing my hiking boots, especially since it started to rain once I’d reached the top viewpoint at the base of Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, South Island, New Zealand

The valley was rocky with grey waters, it felt almost volcanic.

Fox Glacier rocks and waterfalls

Fox Glacier rocks and waterfalls

Fox Glacier looked to be a similar size to Franz Josef and I was pleased to have visited both since they consisted of decent walks and different scenery. Both the hikes were free to visit.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Some of the signage was a bit interesting though…

Signage at Fox Glacier

Signage at Fox Glacier – captions?

West Coast Wildlife Centre

Amazingly, the Kiwi Sanctuary was open on Christmas Day. I felt sorry for the poor people that had to work, but grateful that amongst the horrible weather I could still get a chance to see our native bird, the Kiwi.

It was pretty pricy, but I figured the cost is going to a good cause, to help these endangered creatures that we care so much about.

As you walk through the centre you delve into darkness where three kiwis are rummaging around. It’s a bit like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ but you’re saying Where’s the Kiwi? I managed to spot two of them once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, you could hear them rustling around, moving leaves and branches and looking for insects. They can run very fast too! It’s nice to see that the centre has made the enclosure as much like their natural habitat as possible.

I spoke to the vets afterwards and they told me they rotate the kiwis around as more are born and others get released into the wild. They also hatched their 50th Kiwi chick on Christmas Day, giving it the name ‘eggnog’. I was astounded that the Kiwi’s I saw were only 8 weeks old, they were pretty big! At 2 years old, they usually stop growing.

The rest of Christmas Day breezed past and didn’t really feel like Christmas to be honest. Being away from my family was harder than I thought. Most tourists were in groups and with family, so I was usually the solo person wandering alone and if it wasn’t for the hitch hiker I would have gone the entire day without talking to anyone. Much like the days they laid ahead.

Lake Matheson: with reflections

Boxing Day was the day I commenced a long drive further South to Wanaka, but on the way I just had to try stop in at Lake Matheson quickly again to see if there was any chance of reflections this time… and I was in luck!

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson, South Island, New Zealand

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson - Smoke on the water

Lake Matheson – Smoke on the water

Lake Matheson - Flax reflections

Lake Matheson – Flax reflections

It wasn’t as early as I’d hoped for the perfect reflection, but I think these ones are still pretty decent.

Aoraki Mount Cook was pretty stunning too. I was looking forward to the coming days when I’d see the other side of Mount Cook and get to hike near the base.

Aoraki Mount Cook, view from Lake Matheson

Aoraki Mount Cook, view from Lake Matheson

Aoraki Mount Cook, view from Lake Matheson

Aoraki Mount Cook, view from Lake Matheson

Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook

I even saw my first Kereru, New Zealand’s native Wood Pigeon.

Kereru, New Zealand Wood Pigeon

Kereru, New Zealand Wood Pigeon

I learnt the trick with Lake Matheson is to go early in the morning, beat the crowds and get the stillest possible water. It’s definitely on the must-see list along with Franz Josef and/or Fox Glaciers.

To find out more about the West Coast Wildlife Centre, check out their website: http://www.wildkiwi.co.nz/

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