Franz Josef is one of the most talked about Stray stops and there’s no secret as to why. It’s the land where glaciers meet the rainforest and thanks to the incredible blue ice formations going viral on social media, the heli-hike has become the ultimate Franz Josef icon. Being able to walk through these magnificent natural wonders and fly in a helicopter is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but don’t be fooled, the heli-hike isn’t all that this awesome town has to offer.
Perhaps the weather isn’t in your favour (Glacier Country can be a pretty rainy place!), you’ve already heli-hiked and have some more free time or maybe it’s a bluebird day but you just don’t fancy it… whatever the reason, here are some alternative ways to spend your time in Franz Josef:
Kayak to a kiwi sanctuary
I’m going to start this list with my favourite activity in the area: kayaking! Join the awesome team at Glacier Country Kayaks and head to the mystical Lake Mapourika. You’ll see the snowcapped peaks reflected in the water as you paddle across the lake, listen to fun commentary from your guide and even enter protected kiwi bird habitat via the water. Transport, splash jackets, dry bags and photos of your adventure are all provided free of charge! You can kayak alone or with a friend… just try not to fall in 😉
Warm up in the hot pools
Whilst a ticket to the hot pools is included in your heli-hike adventure, you can always choose to indulge in a full-day’s worth of pampering instead. Head to the Glacier Hot Pools where you can relax in the many pools (all with differing temperatures) and even get a massage if you’re feeling fancy. Take a group of friends or even just a good book and rest those muscles after that long Stray bus journey!
Hit the hiking trails
The great thing about New Zealand is that hikes are always in abundance… and they’re free! Although it’s much nicer to walk long distances in the sunshine, a rainy or misty day can provide a whole new ambience to Franz Josef. Grab your cameras, hiking boots and your fellow Stray passengers and embark on an adventure to the glacier face, through rainforest canopy, to Peter’s Pool or maybe even along the beach in Okarito.
Note: Rainforest Retreat hostel provides shuttles to the main car park where most of the hikes begin – this will save you from walking an extra 5km each way! Also, the Stray bus will stop at Lake Matheson on the way to Fox Glacier/Wanaka, so no need to worry about finding transport there!
Go for a quad bike ride
Always fun come rain or shine, quad biking is a perfect alternative for when the helicopters and planes aren’t flying due to bad weather. You can take a 1, 2 or 4 hour trip through rainforests, riverbeds, lagoons and beaches – exploring all the great landscapes that Franz Josef has to offer!
See NZ from above on a scenic flight
Want the views without the hiking? A scenic flight might just be the perfect option for you. It’s quite an expensive activity, so might not be within the typical ‘backpacker budget’, but if you want to spend that hard earned cash on something absolutely magical then you’ll have no regrets here. Soar over the glaciers, oceans and nearby mountain ranges in a ski plane or helicopter then marvel at the views as you land directly on top of Franz Josef Glacier. You’ll have chance to play in the snow and snap some Insta-worthy photos before jumping back on board ⛄
Skydive over the Southern Alps
Saving your money for a skydive? This is the perfect Stray stop to fall from the sky. There are opportunities to jump over Franz Josef Glacier or you can choose to jump over neighbouring Fox Glacier for a change of scenery. (Book this through your driver guide – all transport to and from the jump is included in the price!) The best thing about skydiving is that you don’t just get to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime adrenaline rush, but you also get the perks of a scenic flight beforehand!
So, you officially have no excuses… Whether it’s a warm summer’s day or a rainy, overcast afternoon, there is always something to do here! Want to learn more about Franz Josef? Check out the Stray Destination Guide!