A couple of weeks back, my fellow swedish co-worker and I got on the bus en route to Franz Josef; the bigger of the settlements that make out Glacier Country here on the south island for a few days change of scenery. Now, I do not tend to get car sick (but apparently bus sick is a completely different disease!), yet the threeish hours spent on the bus from Punakaiki was quite challenging sitting at the very end of the bus on these winding roads - so I was very happy to get off and inhale some of that fresh alpine air. (And not to mention those alpine views!)
We had not really planned what to do in Franz Josef; other than meeting up with one of Johan's old acquaintances at the Wednesday night jam session at the Snake Bite Brewery. The rain was pissing down, keeping us 'hostage' at the venue until way past midnight - but with my first draft pint (the Tasman Reserve Lager from Sprig & Fern - do try!) in months and live music, I had no complaints!
The following morning we headed off to explore the townships main attraction, aka the glacier, which is about a 5k walk from the village. With rain still steadily drizzling down from the skies and an eeiry mist covering the Waiho river, it sure would have been nice to stay dry and toasty inside of a car...
But alas, as the Swedish saying goes, "there is no such thing as bad weather; only poor choice of clothing". (We made a whole thing out of translating these proverbs throughout the trip... there are a bunch of odd ones! #slidinginonashrimpsandwich)
At least the heavy downpours made for some epic waterfall gazing #humanforscale
By the time we got closer of the actual blue ice formation, the strong winds turned the rain into painful ice drops making it very unpleasant to try and catch much of a glimpse of it upclose. I basically flipped my camera in direction of the glacier hoping for the best before deciding it was time to retreat moments later.
The local legend is what has given the glacier its name; Kā Roimata o Hinehukatere; which is Maori for The Frozen Tears of Hine Hukatere. It is about a fearless lady who lived and loved climbing the Westland mountains, but fell madly in love with a man from a beach tribe, Wave. This had her torn between the shore and the hill tops; always gazing at one love from the other.
As she finally managed to convince the much less experienced Wave to come with her up the mountains, they encountered an avalanche that took Wave with it. In despair, Hine climbed further up the mountains before she sat down to weep for her loved one, for years on end. The Maori gods looking down saw Hines pain and begain to freeze her tears, that eventually formed into crystal blue ice lake which we see today.
On the way back we took a different route, passing by a wee place called Peter's Pool. Had it not been for a group stopping just in front of us to take pictures, it would have been so close that we would have missed it. But what a sight! A mirrored reflection of the mountains in that clear lake water. Unfortunately with my limited camera lens it was a bit of a struggle to try and capture, but you can imagine.
On the Friday, while waiting for our ride back to Punakaiki to finish work, we randomly set off to explore the Tatare Tunnels. A lucky chance! The Tatare tunnels were used to transport wooden logs back in the day, but now makes out a hike just above Franz Josef.
What started off as a hesitant walk between the rocks, careful not to touch the water (my boots are in fact not so very water resistant I found out!) soon escalated into splashing the cold tunnel water as we walked on. Just above our heads were tiny glow worms; ones we could see so closely that I even noticed the fine web that they surround themselves with.
Unfortunately the second tunnel was closed off from the public at the moment of our visit; but it was definitely a worthy walk if one has some extra time to spend whilst in Franz Josef.
All in all, Franz Josef was a delightful little place for a trip. The place is tiny and despite being built on tourism, has a very cosy feel where once is spoilt for choice when it comes to hikes. I was overwhelmed by the many vegan options available too!
Franz Josef Highlights
- ... the coffee from Full of Beans Cafe, as it is way overpriced for the burnt excuse of espresso that comes out.
- The vegan courgette and chickpea burger at Snake Bite Brewery; the mint & coriander cucumber salsa it is served with will make your taste buds burst of joy!
- Peter's Pool - a mere fifteen minute walk from the main glacier car park is this wee lake that reflects the mountains perfectly on a still day.