Dates: 4th-10th February
I can’t believe that we’re into our third week of New Zealand already AND we’ve been away from home for a month! It seems to have gone by super fast but looking back, it’s like a lifetime ago since we were standing in Newcastle airport saying goodbye— I’m definitely missing everyone (especially Ryan and Macey, sorry mum and dad!)
This week we continued along the west coast of the South Island stopping at Westport, Lake Mahinapua, Franz Josef and Wanaka. We saw some pretty amazing sights along the way and I would say that they are some of my favourite of New Zealand so far.
We travelled to Westport from Kaiteriteri stopping at Nelson Lakes for a picnic lunch and to take in the views. Nelson lakes is surrounded by huge mountains and there is a small pier which is famous as a photo point because the view beyond of the lake and the mountains is spectacular. You can do a lot of water sports in this lake and as it was a national holiday the day we visited there were so many New Zealander’s out with their boats. The water was pretty cold though and there were huge black eels swimming around putting Zoe and I off taking a dip— some of the brave ones from our bus still did though!
When we arrived at Westport, we checked into Bazil’s hostel which had a beach shack, surfer vibe to it with colourful walls, beautiful artwork, wooden decking, and surf boards lined up ready for the surf lessons they offered.
We had heard from travellers ahead of us that the Kiwi bus driver will drop you off at a local beach and help set up a beach bonfire for you to enjoy whilst watching the sunset. Unfortunately, our bus driver wasn’t up for this so instead a few of us from the group decided to walk to the beach ourselves in time for a sun downer, or two. What was supposed to be a 20-minute walk turned into 40 minutes and ended up not on the intended beach but instead a pier adjacent to a smaller beach. However, every cloud has a silver lining! As we arrived a few kids came running up to tell us there was a sea lion swimming around really close to the pier. The sea lion was a having a lovely evening swim and got really, really, close to us, almost as if he was spying on us to see what we were up to. At one point a dog appeared on the beach with its owner. The dog was having a great time diving into the water to retrieve sticks that were floating about but of course, this attracted the sea lion which started to swim up to the dog. I was terrified, I thought it wasn’t going to end well but the dog barked and frightened off the sea lion,— see our @JetSetGo instagram account for the video!
The thrills didn’t stop there as when we were walking back to the hostel (in the dark) we had to walk through a bushy, forestry area. We heard a huge rustling noise and out popped a kiwi bird which scurried straight across our path and into the undergrowth on the other side of us! Did you know that most New Zealander’s will never come across a Kiwi bird in their entire lives? We feel very privileged. It turned out to be quite an eventful evening— no need for a beach bonfire!
Along the coast from Westport there is a seal colony at Cape Foulwind where our bus stopped for us to walk along the cliff tops looking over the Tasman sea. We were able to lookout over the rocky shoreline where there were about 100 adult seals and pups sunbathing and swimming. Westport is certainly great from the wildlife aspect!!
On our way to Lake Mahinapua we stopped at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks Walkway. This takes you around the natural limestone rock formations which look like thousands of pancakes piled on top of each other—the A-level geography student in me loved this (and New Zealand in general)!
The weather took a bit of a turn for the worse as we returned to the bus and when we arrived at Lake Mahinapua there wasn’t much to see, it felt very much like a cold, drizzly English summers day! The Kiwi bus stops at Lake Mahinapua as they host a fancy- dress costume party (basically an excuse for the travellers to get drunk). However, if I’m completely honest, I hate fancy dress and I didn’t want to spend money on buying an outfit like other people on the bus had done so this was a bit of a wasted stopover. There was a costume room at the hostel where we could borrow things which meant I could piece together an outfit. Our theme was to dress up as something with the first letter of our name. I went as a burglar so I could wear leggings and stay warm whilst it was freezing and raining outside, a lot of people put in the effort and there was some great costumes! It was a good night in the end, but I would’ve definitely skipped this stop if I could!
We were glad to be leaving Lake Mahinapua and extremely excited to be heading to Franz Josef!
We arrived at our hostel, the Rainforest Retreat early afternoon. This hostel is by far the best that we’ve stayed in and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg either! We were offered the chance to stay in the tipi tents in their glamping spot for the same price as a shared dorm. There were about ten tipi tents, each with four single beds inside, nestled into a secluded spot of the Rainforest Retreat. We loved it and it was a welcome change from staying in shared dorms with bunk beds!
Frank Josef Glacier
What a day! We woke up bright and early, had breakfast and got dressed for our Franz Josef Heli Hike. Zoe and I plus around ten other girls from the Kiwi bus were so excited to be heading for a hike on a glacier! Clouds were looming low when we arrived, and we were told that our trip might be cancelled but that we were still to check in. It was all so nerve wracking because every single one of us were desperate to do the trip. With a constant eye on the sky looking at the clouds which were gathering around the mountain we knew that our chances were slim. We’d been told that around 60% of the trips are cancelled due to bad weather but we got dressed into the gear and we were waiting patiently to find out what they’d decide. Unfortunately, due to the weather they had to cancel our trip— we were absolutely gutted! It seemed so cruel to get us dressed up in the gear and ready for the trip only to cancel it ten minutes later. We were put on a waiting list and were told to return in a couple of hours to see if we could get onto trips planned for later in the day.
When we returned trips were going ahead and a couple of girls managed to get onto spaces where people couldn’t make it. The rest of us waited, and waited, and waited (from 10-1). Eventually they sat us all down and told us they had put an extra trip on for us, so we’d be able to make it to the glacier after all! You should’ve seen the smiles on our faces, we were over the moon and so excited! Once again, we got dressed up in the gear and we made it!
We took a short helicopter ride up to the glacier and landed on the ice— which made me a little bit nervous but the excitement completely outshone my nerves. We were then guided around the Franz Josef glacier where we climbed up steps he carved and hacked out of the ice. We hiked around the best parts of the glacier that were safe to do so and saw huge and deep crevasses, small caves and tunnels, giant ice pinnacles as high as multi-story buildings, ice falling from higher sections of the glacier and so much more. The ice was so blue and when you squeezed through the tight walls, you could see how dense the glacier is, it’s incredible.
As we were the last trip of the day our guide was able to spend a lot more time than usual with us on the ice and we often stopped to ask questions and listen to our guide educate us with all his knowledge of the glacier (which was a lot)! I feel so unbelievably lucky to have had the chance to hike on Franz Josef glacier. I think because we were so disappointed to have our trip cancelled it made us appreciate it so much more when we actually got there. I also feel so lucky because as the glacier is retreating very quickly it’s difficult to tell how long it will still be safe to walk on or if it’ll be around when I have grandchildren! It was the best day ever and we were grinning from ear to ear because of the thrill of it all. If you have the chance to travel around New Zealand, make sure you do this trip and give yourself a good few days in Franz Josef so that if it is cancelled you have the chance to get onto another before you go— it’s so worth it.
That evening the whole Kiwi Experience bus enjoyed an “all you can eat pizza night” at the Rainforest Retreat and of course, happy hour drinks. It was lots of fun and the best part about it was being able to catch up with people on the same bus tour as us who we hadn’t seen for a while as they had travelled ahead or behind us.
On route to Wanaka we made a number of photo stops as the drive was so beautiful. First, we stopped at Lake Matheson which is known for the outstanding reflections of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, there were a few clouds, but it still looked great. After this we had a quick walk to the Thunder Creek Waterfall which was huge and thin- again, a beautiful stop. Finally, as we were approaching Wanaka, we stopped to see the unbelievable blue of the water in Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea . The mountains that surrounded these lakes were just amazing, my photography doesn’t do it justice but if you have ever done this drive before or are planning to do so you will be stunned by how beautiful it is! Definitely the best drive we have done in New Zealand so far.
We arrived into the beautiful small town of Wanaka, located (shockingly) on a huge lake and surrounded by mountains. Wanaka is known for being the smaller version of Queenstown, but the locals hate this association. There are plenty of small cafes, restaurants and bars that overlook the blue waters of the lake— it’s really stunning.
We didn’t do much here other than relaxing on the beach and having a few drinks, the weather wasn’t so great, so we missed out on the sunset walks and instead spent an afternoon at the small cinema watching Mary Poppins. Wanaka is certainly beautiful and definitely one of the towns that is top of my list in terms of location and beautiful landscape.
Franz Josef and Wanaka have both been so stunning and I would definitely recommend spending a good few days at both. They are in located in beautiful parts of New Zealand that have great walks, restaurants and bars plus much more to keep you occupied!
I’ve had a fantastic week and I’m so pleased that we finally got to do the Franz Josef heli- hike. Next stop is Queenstown, for a week, the tourism capital of New Zealand and I’m so excited!
Make sure you follow my instagram account for picture updates! @Beckyramseyy and @JetSetGo
Thanks for reading!