Franz Josef to Hokitika Road Trip

Franz Josef

In the morning we take SH6 north and half an hour later arrive in Franz Josef. It’s somewhat larger and definitely busier than its nearby cousin and as rain threatens, we dash into Franz Josef Glacier Guides to check that the glacier hike is still on. It is, and so we emerge wearing standard glacier hiking gear: a Gore-Tex jacket, socks, boots and gloves. A short bus ride leads us to the start of the track. Back in 1930 this was the base of the glacier; today it’s a three kilometre hike!

En route our informative and friendly guide, Rob Knox, tells us that Franz Josef is the world’s steepest and fastest-flowing commercially guided glacier. “The glacier’s head receives enormous amounts of snow which ‘drive’ the glacier at speeds of up to ten metres per day,” he says.

The weight of the snow compresses into glacier ice, which melts and forms tunnels which carry the ice-melt away.

At the base of the glacier – it looks really slippery – we strap ‘Ice Talonz’ over our boots for grip. Bob dances on the spot then topples as his feet touch and the Talonz catch.

Slowly and with an ungainly gait, we begin to make our way up the face of the glacier. At first it’s pretty scary, but we gain confidence and before long we’re scruffing our Talonz firmly into the ice and walking “positively” as instructed by Rob.

And it’s just as well for soon the descent begins through stunning, icy blue tunnels and past deep crevasses which emit incredibly intense shades of blue – even on a dull day like today. It’s such fun that our four-and-a-half hour tour seems to pass by in a flash and before we know it we’re back in town.

After hungrily wolfing down lunch at Beeches we drive past Lake Mapourika (famous for its trout and salmon) and Lake Wahapo en route to Whataroa, which boasts NZ’s only nesting colony of white heron.

Here we join a small group aboard a jet boat and after following the Waitangitaona and Waitangiroto Rivers, we land at a small jetty surrounded by towering kahikatea forest. Our White Heron Sanctuary Tour guide, Deon, leads us along a boardwalk to a hide from which we have perfect views of these magnificent birds sitting on their nests across the river. Amongst other interesting facts, Deon tells us that the herons arrive in early September to breed and the nearby Okarito Lagoon provides a plentiful supply of food.

Spotting a rare royal spoonbill Bob thinks it’s a heron with a deformed beak. “Oh no,” laughs Deon, “we’ve also got 30 royal spoonbill nests.” At 3 pm we hit the road again, driving north to the small township of Harihari, past Lake Ianthe and on to Ross, home to the famous Ross Goldfields. NZ’s largest gold nugget was unearthed here in 1909. It weighed 3.6 kilograms and was presented to King George V as a coronation present. We stretch our legs on the tailings by the river and then continue on to Hokitika where we treat ourselves to a stay at the Beachfront Hotel, which is modern and right on the beach front.