– Do you want to know and see the activities beyond the glaciers in Franz Josef?
Franz Josef New Zealand
Nature’s splendor surrounds Franz Josef New Zealand with rain forests, ice glaciers, mountains, the Tasman Sea, and the bird life. In summer there are gorgeous flowers, tall fern trees in the rainforest or as the New Zealanders say the magical Jurassic Forest, and crystal clear lakes, rivers and creeks.
The Franz Josef World Heritage area is chock full of easy to extreme activities from lazing in hot springs, riding in a comfy scenic boat trips, fishing, or kayaking, to glacier activities. Whether you walk, bike, hike, fly, glide, boat, or sight-see, exploring New Zealand’s Glacier Country is unforgettable.
While there are 3 popular glacier areas where you can stay, we chose Franz Josef Glacier Village. It has everything you need for any adventure, plus restaurants, a Wildlife Centre, many accommodation choices and more. Plus, most destinations are walking distance from town.
There are a multitude of things to do on your own in town:
- Take a short rainforest walk from a path in town
- Walk the historic swinging bridge
- Rent mountain bikes
- Soak in the glacier hot pools
- Visit the Glacier Center
- Enjoy some of the many restaurants
- Hang out in a local pub
- Visit the little church
In the Town of Franz Josef
Franz Josef Wildlife Centre
We were invited guests by the West Coast Wildlife Centre; this is a totally independent and honest review based on my own experience.
While there is so much to see and do outdoors, it is important to have indoor experiences on your list since it does rain a lot in Glacier Country. Our glacier helicopter experience was canceled on our first day, so we had the chance to visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef, an exhibit and a breeding program for the endangered Kiwi.
In case you are wondering, a Kiwi is not just a fruit, or a New Zealander. Kiwis are an endangered species of birds. In the Franz Josef area in the Okarito Forest on the West Coast of New Zealand, a new type of Kiwi was recently discovered – the Rowi, now considered the rarest species of Kiwi. With less than 400 of these flightless nocturnal birds left in the world, the Centre is working to save the species with an indoor incubation and hatching program.
It is interesting to take a self-guided tour of the Centre, an indoor attraction which provides an opportunity to learn about the history and lore of the Kiwi. It is a great stop between hikes and glacier helicopter rides. Learn about the endangered wildlife that lives near the glacier.
Upon entry, after reading the informative panels at the exhibit entry, you’ll get to see kiwis for yourself in their nocturnal environment, once your eyes adjust. Quietly observe the foraging and eating habits of the Rowi. Kiwis are the only birds with nostrils at the end of their beaks. This helps them to sniff out prey. Kiwis can be very difficult to find in the wild as they are ground feeding nocturnal birds. You can watch them in action at the Centre. With all of our hikes and excursions, the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef is the only place we saw Kiwis, and thanks to the Wildlife Centre for providing a habitat similar to their natural one for observation.
Either through a private backstage tour or the videos at the end of the habitat, you see the protection, incubation, and hatching program in action.
There are many additional interesting exhibits to view once you leave the Kiwi habitat. At the centre, learn the facts about the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Also see the exhibit and video of the story of the West Coast of New Zealand.
The West Coast Wildlife Centre is a non-profit initiative partnered with the Department of Conservation, and supported by other private contributors and businesses. Learn more at http://www.wildkiwi.co.nz/.
Franz Josef New Zealand Adventures
On the water
While we were invited guests by Glacier Country Lake Tours, this is a totally independent and honest review based on my own experience.
Most people don’t think of lake adventures when going to a glacier town like Franz Josef. Let me remind you that there are other great outdoor activities in addition to the glacier hikes and helicopters. We decided to go beyond the glacier and take in the lake adventure. So glad we did. It was lovely, relaxing and educational on the sunset cruise on Lake Mapourika.
It rained for part of 2 out of the 3 days we visited Franz Josef, but it didn’t hamper our activities with Glacier Lake Tours. While our helicopter flight was rescheduled due to weather, our evening boat cruise was not canceled. Glacier Lake Tours is prepared whether your day is sunny or not, with their enclosed boat, the Hanna K, offering indoor and outdoor viewing platforms.
Lake Mapourika in Franz Josef offers views of Jurassic Forests to the Glaciers. When the sky is clear, Mt. Cook Glacier is easily seen. The lake was formed by a glacier from 14,000 years ago. The water temperature ranges from 18C – 23C (brrr at 64– 73 F). Today it offers visitors fishing, kayaking, boating, and swimming.
During our evening cruise, the sun came out and the clouds parted so we could see some of the tallest peaks in the area, Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. What gorgeous snow-capped mountain views reflecting off the lake! It’s cocktail or tea time during the sunset cruise, so bring your preferred alcoholic beverages, and Captain Dale will serve tea if you wish.
We so enjoyed the calm serene lake while soaking up Captain Dale’s knowledge of the glaciers, the mountains, the topography, and geology. We learned a bit about the Punga or Fern trees, coniferous Kahikatea, and the temperate rain forest which is at the base of the glacier and surrounds the lake.
Captain Dale is a local who once worked as a mountain guide, and kayak trip leader. He shares his wealth of knowledge of the glacier, geological and Maori history of the area as the Hanna K glides through the water.
Captain Dale also runs an early morning boat trip that is combined with a rainforest walk on a trail he built himself from the lake shore. I can only guess that it would be quite an interesting experience absorbing Captain Dale’s knowledge of the Jurassic forest.
The Hanna-K takes up to 22 people, and usually runs with 4-12 people. If you want to catch dinner, take a fishing cruise on the Hanna-K; fish for brown trout and king salmon, and ask to barbeque on the boat. They’ll bring the barbeque for just $50 more. You can have 10-12 people on the boat for a fishing – barbeque trip. What fun! There’s nothing as good as fresh New Zealand salmon. Wish we did that.
The lake is stunning, and when the sun shines, it reflects the glaciers. If it is warm enough, take a swim. Lake Mapourika is surrounded by temperate rainforest. There are tons of trails in the rainforest. Look for the wildlife, especially the abundant birdlife.
Glacier Lake Tours also provide kayaks or lead kayak trips, so don’t despair if the glacier is socked in and your glacier trip is canceled, take to the water with Glacier Lake Tours. I recommend doing both. Relax before or after your glacier trip on the water.
Visiting the local little church and the glacier center, as well as the shops on the main street gave us a flavor for the area. We walked the local rainforest trails, and took in the glaciers peeking out from behind the clouds – a gorgeous sight. I wanted to go to the glacier hot pools, but we ran out of time.
Our 2 nights and 2 days were jam packed with activities so it felt like we spent 5 days there. I had wanted to stay 3 nights but due to high season, there were no rooms to be had. Franz Josef is a different experience than any other we had in our 7 weeks in New Zealand, offering many fun adventures for all activity levels.
Stay tuned for our next article about Franz Josef activities on the glacier.