Franz Josef is a stunning glacier town located in the South Island. The Kiwi bus books you into Rainforest Retreat, which turned out to be one of our favourite hostels so far. It has a lovely restaurant with an open fire, and tables outside to catch the sunset. On the second night they held ‘Pizza fest’ for the Kiwi bus only, an all-you-can-eat pizza night which for us, happened to coincide with Valentine’s day.
One of the main activities to do in Franz Josef is the heli-hike which consists of a helicopter ride through the glaciers, and a stop off on top for a walk / bite to eat. You can also book onto ice climbing tours which take you right up to the glacier peak. We would’ve loved to do one of these, however budgets meant we opted for the free version; hiking to the glaciers on foot. The helihike was 400 NZD for the full experience, or 200 NZD for the cheaper one which just meant less time in the helicopter. The hike round trip from our hostel was a total of 16km, mostly flat along the roads and then through the rocks at the end before reaching an incredible view in front of the glacier. Despite not being quite as beautiful or intense as seeing the glacier from the top, this option is well worth it for those low on money but still wanting to get a good view.
Leaving Franz Josef, our bus took us through Fox Glacier and had a quick stop off at Lake Matheson. This was on our top list of views in New Zealand for sure, on a sunny day the lake will show you a perfect mirror reflection of the Southern Alps and its calm waters.
The bus from here took us straight through to Wanaka, another town in the South Island and our last stop before Queenstown. Do keep in mind that there are better and cheaper hostels to stay here than Base, however again due to being there in high season and not enough forward planning, we weren’t able to book into any of them.
Wanaka is said to be on the road to becoming the new Queenstown (or just an equally as fun alternative with more availability for accommodation!) It’s a small town with the 5th largest lake in NZ, in which sits ‘That Wanaka Tree’, apparently the world’s most instagrammed tree. We wandered round the lake to see it during the day, however we would recommend going early evening time as the sun is setting. It sets behind the mountains, however gives the sky a strong pink colour, which provides the perfect background to snap the tree! The evening that we wandered over, we got incredibly lucky as we approached to see a man dressed in a full tuxedo, playing the piano just at the edge of the lake. He calls himself ‘The Travelling Pianist’, and travels the world with his piano at his side.
The lake is great for a swim, and across the lake side are a few bars which are great to sit outside for the afternoon, with pool tables and incredible mountain scenery behind. Eating out can be very pricey so we opted to cook at the hostel and save a bit of cash! We left Wanaka extremely excited to reach Queenstown - the adventure capital of the world, where we could stay for a longer period and really get the chance to properly explore.