So you’re heading to beautiful New Zealand, better yet, to the stunning West Coast, to experience the world famous Franz Josef Glacier. But is there more to do there than checking out the glacier? Absolutely – this little town is an incredible hub of exciting adventures and activities just waiting to be discovered. So we’re going to highlight for you the team at Franz Josef Glacier Guides’ favourites.
Every good adventure starts with the right ‘blend’ – and if you’re anything like our team, your day is always best kick-started with a good cup of coffee. There are tons of places you can drop in for a quick coffee break during the day, but our favourite early morning brew is the Vivace coffee at the Glacier Base Café, located right next to our reception at the Glacier Base. Convenient right?
Our native flightless bird epitomizes cute! Franz Josef is actually home to the rarest of all the Kiwis, the Okarito Rowi. Lisa and the team at the West Coast Wildlife Centre work with the Department of Conservation to breed these beautiful little birds and you can visit to see how the breeding program works. You can also go behind the scenes and get really up close and personal with them.
The West Coast Wildlife Centre also has a fantastic interactive glacier display, quenching any thirst for knowledge you may have about the area and the magnificent ice form. But really, for us the highlight are the Kiwis! Do yourself a favour and grab a backstage pass – it’s well worth it to experience these birds closer than most ever have!
We’re always keen to saddle up with Chloe and the team at Glacier Country Horses and go for a trek through farmland and forest. Taking the ride on horseback down to the river is something that always makes us happy, not to mention the seriously photogenic backdrop of mountains – being immersed in New Zealand’s grandeur on the back of a pony is something you won’t be able to compare to any other experience. Apache is a bit of a favourite of ours – he’s a big boy but has such a gentle temperament he can make even the most novice rider feel like a seasoned cowboy!
Ex-glacier guide, Dale and his ‘paddle-wife’, Bronwyn (along with their dog Tui), are always keen to let our team tag along for a kayak onto Lake Mapourika and over to one of the inlets for a bit of an adventure up to the Kiwi Sanctuary. We reckon’ the best time to do it is early morning when the lake is still and the air’s clear.
Making the early morning kayak also means we’ve got the opportunity to take a small fishing charter with Dale in the afternoon on the same lake. Nothing beats fish cooked straight out of the water.
The Glacier Hot Pools are a couple of minutes walk from the centre of town in the middle of the rainforest. The main pools are the most enjoyable for us because there’s variety of temperatures to suit your own preference. There’s also cold out-door showers so you can get that refreshing rush before plunging into the heat!
If you’re after something a little more romantic, nothing beats a private pool. Secluded, with their own changing rooms, and fresh water each session, these pools are the perfect place to hang out with someone special and count the stars in the pristine night sky. It’s a seriously great ‘date night’ option.
A typical West Coast beach, wild and rugged Okarito backs onto a lagoon with the same name. One of the best things you can do in this inspiring place is head out and watch the sun setting over the water. If you arrive a little earlier in the day (between the months of October and April) you might even get a glimpse of a Kotuku, or White Heron. These beautiful birds feature on our two dollar coins here in New Zealand and their breeding grounds are just a bit further north of Okarito. But at the right time of year, they like to come down to feed in the lagoon’s waters.
For a small town, we’ve got a lot going on when the sun goes down! Monsoon is always a favourite with our guides – it’s great for a dance, pizza, game of pool or just a catch up with friends around the fire.
If you’re here on a Wednesday, make sure you check out open mic night at the Snake Bite Brewery on the main road. Anyone and everyone is welcome and you’ll find locals and travelers alike making the most of it – this one’s quickly become a steady staple in everyone’s social calendar.
The Landing Bar is also a firm favourite with its huge covered outdoor deck, home-style food and warm, welcoming vibe. It’s a sure bet that most nights you’ll find our crew hanging out around the open fire on the deck telling jokes, exchanging tall tales and generally spinning good yarns – which means we’re always very talkative.
From start to finish, no matter what you do here, Franz Josef has things to do for everyone on every sort of budget. Wherever you go, the true West Coast hospitality is always there to make you feel at home. That’s why we love it here.
Check out the video at the top of the page – it’s Alex and Kay doing an awesome day of non-glacial activities in Franz Josef! If you want to see what other awesome things there are to do on the West Coast, you should also have a read of these great articles: