While the trip around New Zealand was mainly about my family and what they wanted to do, because hey, I lived here, I could do whatever whenever I wanted. One thing I really wanted to do was go glacier hiking on the West Coast of the South Island. Since we were passing through that part of the country on the way from Milford up to Abel Tasman, I made a point of scheduling a day with no driving and being outside. My fingers were crossed so tight that it wouldn’t rain as it does most of the year!
Lodging is tight in both Franz and Fox and this was the place I had the hardest time nailing down a place. We were there during peak season and the area is super touristy but with high turn over. We wanted to go hiking at Fox, since it was slightly cheaper but the town of Fox was pretty much booked up, so I had to find somewhere to stay in a slightly larger town of Franz Joseph.
This was a good choice. We stayed at the Ratagrove motel and I can’t find a link to the website but I am not sure this is a bad thing. When I called and told them about what we need they didn’t have any family rooms available but they did have two studios available and the price couldn’t be beat so I booked it. I then sent a follow up email the next day as I did with all the rooms I booked over the phone to confirm the dates and price in writing and I got a reply from this place saying that the guy on the phone quoted me the wrong price and to reconfirm the rooms at the new price. Since we were booking two rooms, this ended up being one of our more expensive stays, but there was nothing I could do as accomodation was at a premimum and we had the room. When I told my mom this, she was like, tell them you are going to cancel and find somewhere else, but unlike the rest of the world where you can hold most places to their word, since accomodation is so hard to find in either town, it was either stay here for the higher (but not outrageous) price or stay nowhere. I had to take it. That sucked, but just a lesson in double checking and always following up. Anyway, the place ended up being kind of a hole anyway. This was one of the only places were we found bugs in the bathroom. Blah. But the upside is the hotel is right off the main road and walking distance from everything (typical New Zealand!). There are a few places to eat in town and we ate at both of them for dinner each night, plus hitting the supermarket to pack lunches for our glacier hikes.
The drive to and from Franz to Fox is about 30 minutes each way, so not too bad compared to what we had been doing the previous days. I booked my sister and I on the full day hike and booked my parents on the half day hike. The full day hike started about an hour before the half day so we suited up. The group was split up in smaller groups and I gravitated to the female guide with the least Kiwi accent. Turns out, she is American, entered New Zealand on the WHV (what I was currently in the country on as well) and stayed on with a regular visa for a few years to work as a guide. She had done tours up in Abel Tasman as well and moved down to Fox Glacier a few months before to mix it up a bit. Very interesting! On the tour, all equipment was provided. I used all the hiking equpiment provided (including extra socks) and my sister also borrowed a hat. Since we were hiking during summer, our hike up to the glacier was actually kind of hot and we were in short sleeve shirts. Once we got to the glacier, it was time to layer up and strap on the crampons.
Every tour on the glacier is different. The guide creates the route and goes in first. We ate lunch while on the glacier, which was probably the coldest part of the day. The guide chopped into the glacier and created a small water fall for us to fill our bottles up in and let me just tell you as a profession water drinker (it’s nearly all I drink) that this was the best water I had ever tasted. Before we left the glacier, I refilled my bottle and tried to make it last as long as possible. I was skeptical at first, but I highly highly recomend drinking the water. The guide chopped our path and let us chop a little bit. My sister did and I took some video. At one point, someone in our group lost their walking stick and it fell into the ice and I asked what happens to them and the guide said that they come out the other end as the glacier moves and melts, weeks later. I thought that was really funny! The ice also had a slight reddish tint and the guide asked why it was liked that. No one knew and she said it was dust that had migrated over from Australia. Crazy! So now every time we see something with a reddish tint, we say it’s like that because of Australia.
I had a really good time on the hike. I didn’t feel rushed at all and just had a really good day. And it was beautiful! It rained a little bit, but hardly at all. Nothing to make the day miserable. Now my parents on the other hand, had a little different day. I sent them out on one of the morning half day hikes, which was not the best decision. Turns out the guides doing the morning hikes, have to make them pretty quick, even in the summer, because they have to get back to lead the afternoon ones. This was not good for my parents. Part of the reason I put them on the half day is because they are kind of slow. Apparently what happened is the guide was urging them to constantly “hurry up” and then I guess got frustrated and told them to wait on the trail (they hadn’t even gotten to the glacier yet!) for a guide heading the other direction back to the lodge and they would get a refund. The end, no other options. This apparently happens a lot. They waited on the trail for someone to come for nearly AN HOUR before another group came and they were headed towards the glacier and the guide just included them in her group, as this was apparently the only tour she had to lead all day, so was in no rush to get back. This ended up saving the day. My parents got to spend some time on the glacier and and made some friends as well. When my sister and I got back as our tour still lasted longer then theirs, we found them chatting it up with an older European couple who was on their “adopted” tour. So the day ended up better then expected! I hated hearing what the guide did to my parents as they are not out of shape, just kind of slow. But because of the rushed morning tours, I would recommend sending all the slow couches on the mid day or afternoon tours as they are not as rushed.
Moral: Fox or Franz, they are both super similer. I am very glad we did the Fox hike and stay in Franz. I like mixing it up and Franz is a bigger town so there are more places to eat and wonder around in at night and Fox is a slightly less popular glacier, but just as awesome. But either way, you must do one of them when you come to New Zealand!