But looking back at the posts, I could’ve done better. I want to take another shot at it. So let me swing back to the glacier hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.
Look, I really want you to go to Franz Josef Glacier. I think you’ll take something incredible from the experience. If you’re fit enough, sign up for an all-day session on the ice (You can’t just go glacier hiking on Franz Josef unguided – I was skeptical of the need for guides at first. But you need them, for real).
Part of what amazes me about this is that Franz Josef is one of the few places on the planet where you can go from hiking through a tropical rainforest to glacier hiking in, oh, about 30 minutes. That’s right.
This isn’t a very technical glacier experience. You won’t need training or ropes or anything crazy. At some point, you’ll strap crampons to your feet. A short way into the day, you’ll need ice axes. And you’ll always need to mind your guides to the letter and keep your wits about you.
OK, I have that out of the way. But here’s the really big deal about glacier hiking: It’s a chance to see the Earth -- alive, changing, noisy, real. And to feel something about it.
I am convinced that every person needs this sort of connection to the world. Think about how many of us live among concrete. It’s all so static, so dead. It’s easy to see how a person can forget that we’re on a giant ball of interlinked organisms and matter. It’s easy to see how a person can just shrug and say "screw the environment."
Here’s my promise: If you stand on a glacier, you will change. You’ll hear the water rush under you. You’ll feel the vibration as ice grinds against rock. And you’ll desperately wish that most of the world’s glaciers weren’t disappearing. And just maybe, you’ll think about ways you can help reverse the process.
If you’re like me, you’ll spend some time feeling like a hypocrite. I drive too much. I fly too much. I wish I rode my bike to work more.
But hey, maybe you’ll do something smaller and less grand -- and it will start to add up.
When I look at my day glacier hiking on Franz Josef, that’s the real takeaway. It’s far important than the beauty – though I promise the views will captivate you.
Now, go. Take a trip to New Zealand. Book your tour. Come back, and tell me what your day at Franz Josef Glacier did for you.
Snow is great when it first starts falling. But give it a month, and you’ll be ready to get away from it. So where should you go?
New Zealand, no contest. Here’s why.
1. It’s summer down there. But to most of us in the United States, a Kiwi summer is like a mild spring. You will only see snow on the tallest mountain peaks. Otherwise, it’s swimming/hiking/outdoor weather!
2. It’s cheap. One US dollar gets you about $1.26 in NZ dollars. And prices down there are just reasonable all around.
3. The scenery is off-the-hook spectacular. Tongariro National Park. The Southern Alps. Franz Josef Glacier. Queenstown. You won’t believe your eyeballs at any of these places – and I’m leaving out dozens of scenic spots.
4. It’s relentlessly laid back. Want to relax? Even if you spend your whole vacation stomping around with a backpack, you will feel the easygoing Kiwi nature.
You’ve got your choice of Qantas or Air New Zealand. Pick whichever has the best deal and schedule at the time. They’re both a treat if you’re used to flying domestic airlines. Don’t like long flights? Well, harden up, as the Kiwis would say!
The Skinny on Hotels
Hotel rooms in New Zealand often have kitchenettes. There are very few huge chain hotels. There’s also a lot of novelty (look no further than Woodlyn Park and its Hobbit rooms and the Bristol airplane converted into two suites).
The Glowworm Caves in Waitomo are worth spending half your day underground. Rap, Raf ‘n’ Rock can set you up with a great tour. I also loved hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – if you’re up for it, you can summit the volcano that portrayed Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Even two years after my visit, I’m still blown away by the full-day hike on Franz Josef Glacier, where Franz Josef Glacier Guides will walk you from tropical rainforest to the snout of a glacier before strapping on some crampons and hitting the ice.
If you like fresh fish, lots of fruit and a heavy Asian influence, you will have no trouble eating in New Zealand. There are plenty of exotic and flat-out weird tastes, like possum pie and whitebait. Craft beer is also getting big among the Kiwis: Check out Croucher Brewing in Rotorua – they were not yet open during my visit, and I’m curious about them. Oh, and coffee! You’ll find a classy cafe with a skilled barista in even the tiniest towns. I guess I should mention the wine – I’m not a big wine guy, but people who like wine love what the Kiwis have to offer.
Kiwis would have you believe Auckland is a dystopian megalopolis straight out of Blade Runner – or nearly as bad as Las Vegas. In reality, it’s got a very pleasant, Seattle-like vibe. Wellington is cosmopolitan and fun, with music, arts, food and museums aplenty. Nelson and Queenstown on the South Island are much smaller, but with active nightlife and plenty to do, both indoors and out.
Rent a car on the North Island. I’d recommend buses for the South Island … the roads are a bit tricky. The occasional bout of rain and driving on the opposite side of the road won’t help you any.
Odds & Ends
Bring some rain gear – New Zealand weather can change instantly. Sturdy boots are a must for the hikers. And bring a good camera. You’re not doing this scenery any justice if you’re using a cell phone camera, and I absolutely do not care how many megapixels it has.
Another thing: lighten up. Kiwis are talkers, and they’re very welcoming. In the U.S., I realize that their amped-up friendliness could seem weird. Maybe even creepy. Down there, it’s just the way people are. We could stand to learn from it, really.
If you need some ideas for a New ZealandÂ travel itinerary, I have you covered. Here are some suggestions for 14 full days in New Zealand that can help you put your own adventures together.
First off, visiting New Zealand involves a lengthy flight (unless you’re from Australia). That means spending at least two weeks is the only way to go. These ideas include some highlights from my trip and a few ideas of what I would’ve changed in my New Zealand travel itinerary with my newfound knowledge.
Day One: Arrive from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. local time. Drop bags off at hotel in Parnell near the downtown area. Grab a few flat whites at Ben’s. Ogle crazy foods at local Asian markets. Take a ferry to Rangitoto IslandÂ and hike to the top of the volcano. Return to hotel … check in and shower. Then off to dinner and wandering the streets of Auckland. Hindsight is 20/20 … and mine says I should’ve rented a car after the flat whites and driven the easy two hours to Rotorua, thus affording some time in the fun capitol, or extra time in Wellington. I was planning to feel far more jet-lagged, but the symptons never came.
Day 2: Bus from Auckland to Rotorua. Arrive around 2:30 p.m., check into hotel. Visit Kairua Park, walk around Lake Rotorua. Watch for the sulfury lagoon where the lake turns color. Eerie! Indian dinner at Ambiance. General hanging around the town.
Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Stop whenever we feel like it, especially at the Honey Hive. Continue on to Tongariro through Taupo. If you’re a hiker, get provisions in Taupo. Quick two-hour hike on Taranaki Falls Track. Dinner at Skotel. Arrange bus service for tomorrow’s hike.
Day 5: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. An epic journey requiring a post of its own … or two (coming soon). Drive to Waitomo, stopping in National Park at Eiven’s for a quick dinner. Then on through Te KuitiÂ into Waitomo. Fall DEAD ASLEEP!
Day 7: On the road by 8 a.m. for the drive to Wellington. You can do it in six hours without speeding, but more stops equal more time! We made an extended stop at Paraparamu Beach. Hang out on Cuba Street, have a great Indonesian dinner at Rasa.
Day 8: A quick visit to Te Papa Museum, followed by grabbing a few Wellington Phoenix shirts (Wellington’s soccer team in the A League). Then, we catch a flight to Nelson. It’s only about 20 minutes. Arrive, check into hotel, wander the streets and have a late lunch at Falafel Gourmet.
Day 9: Bus to Abel Tasman National ParkÂ (this will get its own entry soon). Walk for a few hours. Late lunch at The Park Cafe. Brews at The Sprig and Fern. Dinner at Little India. This may sound like blasphemy, but in retrospect I’d skip Abel Tasman and head straight to Franz Josef today to make up for an extra day in Rotorua.
Day 10: Bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Stop at the Sandfly CafeÂ … ate a possum pie! By the way, New Zealand likes weird food. You might want to make room in your New Zealand travel itinerary for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival.Â Various other stops – a very nice drive. Best 8-hour bus ride ever. Arrive, check out the town. Hang out a bit.
Day 11: Franz Josef Glacier tour. Unbelievable! That was pretty much the whole day, except for showers and cooking dinner at the backpackers’ lodge. It’s not physically that strenuous, but the experience of being on a glacier is amazing. This should be part of any outdoor-relatedÂ New Zealand travel itinerary.
Day 12: Bus to Queenstown. Stop in Wanaka – beautiful town on the lake! Continue to Queenstown through the heart of NZ’s grape and fruit basket. Lots of vineyards and vintners. Scenery turns more dry and stark. Clearly more commerce and mining, despite the isolation. Arrive in Q-town … we ate some fresh green-lipped muscles at the Aggys Shack chased by gelato from Patagonia – try the banana split flavor. It’s not what you’d expect! Then, off to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire where it’s still in a theater!
Day 13: Parasailing and street luge, followed by a nice run around town. We followed the lake’s edge for a few miles. Then to Aggys Shack, Fish & ChipsÂ for smoked eel and some sort of raw fish concoction. Took a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Fun, and beautiful views. Great to see a bird’s-eye of the crew working the boilers. Finally, a a nightcap atÂ Dux De LuxÂ following a nice pad thai at one of the local Thai restaurants.
Day 14: Breakfast atHalo. Go to Queenstown Airport. Say good-by to Q-Town. Catch a flight in Auckland. And this brings myÂ New Zealand travel itinerary to and end.
Franz Josef GlacierÂ on New Zealand’s South Island is one of only three places in the world where you can walk from rain forest to a glacier in less than an hour. It’s also one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers – and the day I spent glacier hiking on its icy bulk takes its place among my best travel memories.I booked a trip with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. The company offers a number of options: Half-day hikes, full-day hikes, ice climbing and even a heli-hike. We picked the full-day, which was $150 NZ per person. We arrived in the small South Island town of Franz Josef a bit after 4 p.m. on a Tuesday and checked into the Chateau Franz (Read about Chateau Franz). We got only the briefest glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier that day.
Of course, we were up bright and early to check in at 8:15 a.m. the next day. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides building is just a few minutes on foot away from Chateau Franz. It’s a well-kept Continue reading
Well, score one for my wife. She uncovered a very first-rate adventure someplace I didn’t even notice. During my New Zealand planning, I’d completely ignored Franz Josef Glacier. Big mistake! Fortunately, she was there to bail me out with a great discovery.
So, what’s so cool about it? I mean, glaciers aren’t exactly the speed demons of the geological world. Well, how do blue ice, ice caves, crevasses and stunning views sound to you? Yeah, they sound pretty awesome to me.
I booked us a tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. The question was … which one? They have a lot of tours available, everywhere from two hours and up.
“If you’re gonna hike a glacier,” Sarah said, “hike a glacier.”
In other words, don’t do it halfway. Get out on the ice, and stay awhile. Get high up there and see the blue ice caves! Right on, then. I’d bet on this to be one of the high points of the trip.