Franz Josef is a teensy-tiny town. I don't know if you can even call it a town– maybe a village? If you blink while driving through, you'll miss it. I imagine it becomes quite a hopping place in the summer and winter. But springtime– it's a bit dead. There are lots of accommodations, and I think people use it as a base for surrounding attractions– sky diving, bungy-jumping, helicopter rides to nearby glaciers, long tramps. But I wasn't interested in any of those things, so I'd say this was a bit of a sleepy place for me where I could have spent one less day.
I spent three nights, two and a half days in Franz Josef at the Glow Worm Cottages. I arrived in the late afternoon, just in time for the free soup they have here every night. A nice light veggie soup that is quite tasty. I made my dinner, which was a much bigger success than my meal in Wanaka, namely because of SALT! What did people do before the discovery of salt as an agent in food in so many ways?! It was a tomato-curry-chickpea dish with some cauliflower thrown in, all over rice. Yum. I'm back on track with good meals!
The next day, I was up super early, and I headed out to the head of the Franz Josef glacier. It was about an hour walk from the town to the carpark (=parking lot, in American English) on a nice woody path. I was amazed how different the scenery is here compared to other parts of New Zealand. It's more like rainforest, but cold. It rains a ton here on the West Coast of the South Island, so all the trees have moss and lichen, and the forests are just lush with green and dampness. It really felt like I had landed on Endor and that Ewoks were hiding behind trees and in the distance!
I had a really nice walk (it was early, like 9am) to the glacier head. Amazing landscape and scenery, kind of like a desolate land, a moonscape, even. Along the way, there were posts to guide the path, and I set my camera to self timer to take some photos of myself. I felt a little silly, but there weren't any people around, so I kind of had fun running around.
After making it far as one can to see the glacier (public access is limited, and you need to buy a tour package in order to touch the glacier. I think that's a little sacrilegious because doesn't touching the glacier add to its receding? And people seem to lament a little that the glacier is receding… so cut out the tours, then! Geesh! But all morning, I heard the loud whirrs of helicopters overhead, a reminder that where there is money to be made, Mother Nature's cries are no longer heard.) But I was plenty awed by the part of the glacier that I could see, and why can't everyone else be satisfied with that?
I did a few other walks around the glacier to see more views and some cool ponds and lakes. All the while, I was reminded of movies like Lord of the Rings and Return of the Jedi because of the scenery.
I made it back to town by about 1, and had my lunch back at the hostel– my daily staple of a sandwich of cheese and hummus. I just hung out the rest of the day, reading and relaxing. I also made some new acquaintances– two young women from Malaysia. We chatted about our travels and it was nice to have some conversation with some nice people. They were in Franz Josef for about a week, and they were helping out in the hostel in exchange for free accommodation. I remember hearing them converse when I saw them in the common area, and thinking, “that kind of sounds like Mandarin but not quite!” Turns out they were speaking Mandarin, but I'm sure it was with a Malaysian accent.
In the evening, I made it out to a local yoga class taught by an Asian-Kiwi! It was Iyengar-style yoga, which I wasn't too keen on, but it was a nice stretching workout, and I was reminded how much I love yoga and want to get teacher-trained when I get back to the U.S.
The weather turned out to be really nice that day– the sun came out for a good portion, and though the clouds were always there, it was a nice day to be outdoors, hiking around.
My second full day was not so nice– grey and rainy on and off all day. I had debated taking a tour of another nearby glacier (Fox Glacier), but when I awoke to rain and grey, I decided I'd just take the day to hang out in the hostel and maybe take a walk in the area if it cleared up. Turns out it never really cleared up, so I was content staying in, drinking lots of hot tea, reading a John Grisham novel (which I haven't done since high school, I think) from their public bookshelf, and getting groceries for the next leg of my journey.
Interesting thing about Glow Worm Cottages– they have a radio station all day in the common area, and it's a “classics” station, and literally almost every song was a favorite classic of mine– from the Cure's Friday I'm in Love to great 80s hits. It was fun to have that as background music during my relaxing day indoors.