The next day after the Lake Mahinapua Party the atmosphere on the bus was very quiet and chilled, no doubt due to the number of people on board with hangovers. As a result there were no scheduled stops between Lake Mahinapua and Franz Josef.
The township of Franz Josef is a small town of just 200 locals but it offers a perfect base for exploring the glacier and surrounding beautiful scenery. Within the township itself are a number of hostels and motels, a handful of restaurants and bars and a small supermarket.
We stayed at the YHA located at the top of the town. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a double room so we had to share in a four bed mixed dorm. Fortunately for us our room mates were lovely and we had no issues during our four-night stay. The hostel was one of the best we had stayed in up until that point. The kitchen was very well equipped, there was a large comfortable lounge area and separate TV room and a reasonably price laundry.
We spent much of the first day catching up on life admin, doing laundry, trying to sort out some serious card fraud. Anthony took out some of his frustration at the situation with a spot of paintballing in the rainforest.
The following day we did the hike from the township to the glacier. There is a shuttle service offered from the town to the upper car park but at NZD$12 each and the walk only being 45-minutes we decided we’d be better off walking the whole way.
The hiking trail is easy enough to walk, the vast majority of it is flat up until the end where there are a few small hills and the path is made up of loose stones.
The trail weaves through rainforest and as you near the glacier you start to see enormous, beautiful waterfalls.
The glacier is equally impressive although it was a lot smaller than the one we had seen in Iceland. If you wish to walk on the glacier itself you have to pay for a helicopter ride and accompanying guided hike. Apparently years ago it was possible to walk onto the glacier from the hiking trail we did but due to global warming, the glacier is shrinking. Sadly it is shrinking a lot quicker than it can grow each winter so there is every possibility it won’t be there in a few years time.
The following day we did another hike, this time with our friends Beth and Luke who we’d met at the Lake Mahinapua Party. The hike started behind our hostel and the track leads to the Tatare Tunnels and Callery Gorge.
The Tatare Tunnels were blasted from the bedrock and were used as a water sluice during the gold rush. We had hoped to have been able to hike the length of the tunnel to be able to see the glowworms but unfortunately as it had rained quite heavily over the previous days the tunnel was flooded. This didn’t stop us trying to walk through though!
We decided to do the Callery Gorge hike too. The hike took us through the rainforest and we felt like we were walking for hours. Eventually the trail opened up onto the gorge and we carried on past to the swing bridge that crosses the river we’d walked past the previous day. On advice from someone we’d passed going in the opposite direction we decided to keep on going even though the pathway disappeared. We ended up having to scramble over rocks and fallen trees as well as an incident involving quicksand but we made it back to the town in one piece!
If you’d like to see our videos from our time in Franz Josef, be sure to check them out. Part one covers our hike to the glacier and is available here, part two covers our hike through the tunnel and gorge and is available here.