Franz Josef, New Zealand Travel Guide


I visited Franz Josef recently while travelling with Stray - an adventurous New Zealand travel company with flexible Hop-On Hop-Off guided bus routes, and it was one of the top highlights of my time in the South Island.

Due to the exciting must-do activity I just had to do and unpredictable weather, I ended up spending five nights there and it didn't take long for the cosy town to begin feeling like a second home.

Franz Josef is a destination that should be on everyone's South Island road trip and this guide shares my recommendations and top tips for visitors, including that incredible South Island activity I stuck around for that was totally worth it!



ABOUT FRANZ JOSEF

Franz Josef is a true gem on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island and worth staying for a couple of nights at least, at any time of the year. 

Known for its stunning scenic surroundings where glaciers meet the rainforest, it's an incredibly picturesque place to visit and a nature-lovers dream, to say the least.

There are many beautiful hikes from short to long and Kiwi-typical adrenalin-pumping activities on offer to make your time in Franz Josef especially memorable.

The Franz Josef Glacier is the biggest drawcard and doing a Glacier Heli-Hike is the number one activity to do there. 


WHERE TO STAY

Rainforest Retreat is the perfect place to stay in Franz Josef. It's located just off the main village street, making it secluded but in close walking distance to every local activity, including the Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hikes which is literally one minute away.


At the feet of the Southern Alps, the property has magnificent mountain views and is nestled amongst native bush, making it the ultimate base to unwind and explore from.

For backpackers, travelling families, flashpackers and campervanners - they have cheap and cheerful Dorm Rooms, Motel Park accommodation, a Holiday Camp Site and even Deluxe Tree Huts and Lodges to suit everyone's needs and budget.

Onsite, they have a fantastic restaurant and bar Monsoon with daily Happy Hour specials, a great menu, fireplace and pool table, as well as a large outdoor spa pool, shared kitchen and laundry facilities and any tour information you might need. 

The staff are incredibly friendly and happy to help with any local tips or information you might need to make your stay a great experience.




WHAT TO DO

Glacier Heli-Hike

As mentioned, the top activity to do in Franz Josef is the Glacier Heli-Hike and trust me, it is worth every single cent! It's the steepest and fastest moving glacier in New Zealand and it's truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an #NZMustDo.

Beginning at the Franz Josef Village glacier base, you will be briefed with all the tour information you need and get geared up with everything provided for you, including jacket, pants, gloves, boots, socks, crampons etc.

Then you get to experience a fun helicopter ride with the most amazing scenery that lands on the glacier itself.


Once all set with your crampons on, you are then guided on an incredible three-hour hike on the glacier by your professional and friendly guide. 
They show you through the best and most beautiful parts of the glacier and tell you a lot of interesting facts and history about it as well.

Of course, there is plenty of time to take some Insta-worthy shots and soak in the magnificent surroundings around you.




I found the hike to be not too challenging, it is quite easy-going as you move at a fairly slow pace to be safe. The three hours spent on the ice went by so quickly - probably because I was having such a great time!

I was so glad to have stayed behind in Franz Josef to do it. My tour was cancelled due to high winds three days in a row, but on the fourth day, it was perfect conditions!

The weather is very hard to predict so I would advise being flexible with your dates if the Glacier Heli-Hike is something you really wish to do.




Glacier Thermal Hot Pools

If you do the Heli-Hike the entrance to the Glacier Thermal Hot Pools at the base is included in the cost, otherwise, you can pay separately.

Surrounded by rainforest, it's the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate after an exciting day of adventuring. There are three natural hot pools with different temperatures to suit any preferences.

They also have private spas, showers, lockers and even massage facilities onsite to make it an ultra experience.



Scenic hikes & walks

Franz Josef is spoiled for beautiful hikes and walks. If you may not be able to afford the Heli-Hike you can still hike pretty close to the glacier to get a good view of it.

The start of the hike carpark is 5 kilometres from the village centre. To save your legs until the real hiking begins, there is a shuttle bus service that will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation for $12.50 both ways. 

The hike to the glacier is 1.5 hours return plus there is a beautiful mirror lake walk that is 20 minutes return. You can also do a guided tour if you choose which you can book through Franz Josef Glacier Guides. You will learn a lot more about the area, walk through lush rainforests, get close to the glacier and get taken to a hidden waterfall. 


Spot some local wildlife - the native Kea is protected on the West Coast

Other activities

Those are the main activities that I enjoyed myself but there are so many other great ones on offer too including:



WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

There are a few little bars and eateries around the township for you to take your pick, but one that I especially enjoyed eating at was Rainforest's own on-site restaurant and bar Monsoon.


From 7-9 pm they have happy hour specials with $5 beers, house wines and cocktails which you can enjoy on their deck for sunset or in front of the cosy fireplace.

They also have an excellent dinner menu where they specialise in gourmet woodfire pizzas, and their burger was one of the biggest and best of my life!



Another great option that I frequented for lunch is The Landing (a popular spot for a drink also). Our Stray bus driver recommended it to us and they do great food there and coffee and cake.
I had their soup of the day and eggs benedict (at different times), both dee-lish.



TOP TIPS

Summer is peak tourist season in New Zealand and the Heli-Hike is extremely popular and busy. If you're around during the shoulder months, why not go then? There is just as much chance of flying in winter as there is in summer and it's not too cold at all, especially when the sun is shining. I went in early June and it was a warm 13 degrees up there.

As mentioned earlier, I would recommend staying in Franz Josef for at least two nights if you are wanting to do the Glacier Heli-Hike. The weather at the top of a mountain is super unpredictable and tours can often be cancelled at the last minute. 

If doing the Heli-Hike make sure to wear a pair of pants/trousers that aren't jeans. Jeans aren't allowed on the ice, nor are selfie/GoPro sticks. Wear your own thermal layers underneath and bring your sunglasses, everything else is provided.

If it's a wet day (as it often can be on the West Coast), grab an umbrella and browse the cute souvenir shops in town or bunk up in the local cinema to kill a few hours.





I was travelling the South Island with Stray's Ron Pass - a 2-3 week route that explores the best parts of the South Island, including Stewart Island!

More information about my incredible time travelling with Stray is coming very soon on the blog, stay tuned!

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Is hiking a glacier on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Travels,

Bali 2018 Photo Diary


It's been some time since I've written anything personal here and updated you on my latest wanderings. I've been super busy for the last 6 weeks, travelling New Zealand's South Island with Stray and I've just returned from a relaxing holiday in Bali.

There are a bunch of new blog posts coming your way very soon from what I've been up to, but for now, I wanted to share some of my favourite photos from my most recent trip.

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As most of you probably know, I absolutely love Bali and ever since my first trip in 2015, I've consistently gone back every year (this latest trip was my fourth time).

Every time I go back it has grown more and more in tourism, but what I love most about Bali is that the people and their beautiful culture remain the same.

As mentioned, this trip was more of a holiday for my partner and I, to spend some time together in our favourite place, as he is going away for six months very soon for work. 

As we've been so many times we have already done many of the main temples and waterfalls etc. some more than once, in case you may be wondering why we didn't do them this time.

We enjoyed some well-deserved relaxing and soaked up the warm sunshine, being mid-winter back at home.

For the first four nights, we stayed in Ubud and then spent one week in Seminyak, where we also did a day trip and hopped over to Nusa Penida, the island next door to explore. 

Here are some photo highlights, first up:

UBUD

Monkey statue, Ubud
Lunch (and a beer) with a rice field view
At the Sacred Monkey Forest



Relaxing at Goya Boutique Resort
Tegalalang rice terrace

Beaut morning spread
Mojito's are always a good idea (love the art)
A beer for him (I made him pose like that)
Can't get enough of rice fields
Or the local food
Balinese :)
Amazing infinity pool at Goya

SEMINYAK

Checking in at The Breezes
Nice to be back at an old favourite
Time for happy hour and pool bingo
Seminyak street
Mojito bar down the road yasss
A fancy Balinese feast at Bambu



Cultural dinner and show at The Breezes
Traditional dancing
Healthy lunch at popular Sisterfields
Delicious vegan ice cream to finish off at Mad Pops
Balcony view :)

NUSA PENIDA

View of Mt Agung in the background (the volcano that keeps erupting)
Swimming with Manta Rays!
They are super friendly and a lot bigger than they look - at least 5 metres wide
Such an incredible experience!
We also did some great snorkelling in Crystal Bay
Huge bucket list tick - Kelingking Beach
One of the most epic views I've ever seen
Beautiful Broken Beach
A huge Manta Ray swimming in there
Amazing day trip!

I hope you enjoyed seeing a snippet of my 2018 Bali trip. Feel free to check out my Bali Guide for tips and top things to see and do (although I really do need to update it!).

Next time - because we all know there'll be a next time - I'm really keen to check out North Bali and more of the East.

Have you been to Bali or wanting to go? What are some of your favourite things to do there if you have?

Happy Travels,

Everything you need to know about Whakapapa Ski Field, NZ


When people get asked what their happy place is, many usually answer with the beach or some form of water. Mine is sitting at the very top of Whakapapa Ski Field, looking down at the best playground Mother Nature ever built.

During winter, this is my second home. I am lucky to have a mother who skis and she passed this awesome sport on to all of her children. At the age of five, I began shredding fresh tracks on Whakapapa, and by fourteen, I levelled up to snowboarding.

Being overseas, I missed my favourite ski field for several years but I'm back now living in New Zealand with a fresh season pass.



How to get to Whakapapa ski field

Whakapapa is New Zealand’s largest ski field, encompassing 550 hectares of terrain on Mount Ruapehu, a breathing, active volcano. 
Located in the middle of the North Island, it is easily accessible from any of the major cities. You can take a great Kiwi road trip from either Auckland or Wellington and be there in just over four hours.


The scenic approach to the mountain will take you through Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage site.
You will pass through ancient native forests and desert landscapes nestled between three impressive volcanoes; Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.


Whakapapa trails and Happy Valley

For anyone who hasn’t been to the snow, it doesn’t get more epic that standing, sliding, skiing or boarding on a huge volcano.


Whakapapa offers amazing trails for all ability levels with wide open fields, steep drops, chutes and snow-filled basins, all available by lift access.

It is home to Happy Valley, New Zealand's largest beginner ski and snow play area, with superb facilities to learn skiing and snowboarding.



Private or group lessons are available from qualified instructors who come from all over the world. They are some of the friendliest and most easy-going people you will meet. They teach not only the basics but can upskill you all the way to Jedi-Master level.

Once you have conquered Happy Valley, you can work your way up to the lower and upper mountain where a wide range of intermediate and advanced runs and terrains lovingly await you.

There is nothing quite like catching a chairlift all the way to the top of Whakapapa, with the incredible postcard views. The view of the dominating Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans) is unbeatable.



Where to stay near Whakapapa ski field

There are many great accommodation options available nearby, whether you stay one night or settle in for longer. From budget-friendly hostels to the more upmarket hotels, there is something to suit everyone’s wallet.

The closest points to stay at are National Park (20 minutes’ drive away) and Turangi (40 minutes’ drive away). Taupo is another popular option to overnight in. As the largest nearby city, there is a wider range of accommodation choices and only a one-hour and 15-minute drive to Whakapapa.

There are also regular shuttle and bus services to Whakapapa available from Taupo, Turangi and National Park if you choose not to drive.



Whakapapa weather and ski season dates

World-class snowmaking facilities meant Happy Valley opened for business this winter on the 2nd of June. The lower and upper mountain opened June 29th.

Whakapapa boasts New Zealand's longest ski season and is usually open until the end of October for the best spring skiing and riding in the country. The mountain is open daily from 9 to 4, weather dependent.



Whakapapa ski gear

A good snow bunny’s uniform includes waterproof ski pants, a warm, waterproof jacket, warm layers underneath of thermals, merino, woollens etc, a warm hat, waterproof gloves and polarised sunglasses/ski goggles.


Don’t forget to bring sunblock; the sun can be extra harsh from the reflection of the snow.

You can hire any gear you need from the well-equipped rental outlet at Whakapapa.
This includes skis, snowboards, boots, helmets, warm and waterproof outerwear, all correctly fitted to your needs.

For those who use a dislike of the cold as an excuse to stay away from the snow, did you know it can be so warm on a sunny day that you can peel your layers off down to a t-shirt?

The weather is unpredictable, however, and can often change quite quickly. It's wise to be prepared, even for those forecasted sunny days.


My recommendations

As a tip, if you can get there during the weekdays it's a lot less crowded than going on a weekend. Better to avoid the school holidays too, unless of course, you're bringing your own little ones.

On family excursions, we brought our own food from home to save money. In our daypacks, we each carried a thermos of hot soup, egg sandwiches and some chocolate to snack on.
Nowadays I savour a mid-morning barista coffee from one of their three great cafes that offer unbeatable views.

Knoll Ridge Cafe, in particular, is New Zealand's highest cafe and a must-do. The award-winning cafe has a wide range of food options with picture-perfect views and warm hospitality. It makes breaking for lunch an experience in itself.


The feeling of sitting on top of the world is a freeing experience you can’t put a price on.
The pure joy of skiing and snowboarding on Whakapapa’s fresh powder amongst such stunning scenery is truly remarkable.

It is worth the cost, it is worth getting up in the dark for the long drive, it is worth sore legs the next day. It is the best feeling!


If you are heading to New Zealand this winter or are one of the many Kiwis who still haven’t been to the snow, make 2018 the year to come.
It is an experience you will never forget and one that will almost certainly hook you into coming back again and again.

Hit the slopes at Whakapapa this year and come ride an epic volcano!


Have you been to Whakapapa or are you planning to go this year? Let me know in the comments below. Might see you there!

Happy Travels,
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