Queenstown and Franz Josef Glacier
Queenstown backed by the Remarkable Mountains, South Island. Photo by Donaldytong.
Franz Josef Glacier New
Queenstown is superbly situated in the southern-centre of New Zealand's South Island, a small, low-rise community surrounded by mountains, crystal lakes and the cleanest air imaginable. Originally a gold-mining town it's now a tourist centre, predominantly youth-oriented, with a lively night scene and an astonishing array of activities.
A typical Queenstown street.
Well just for starters here are some of the traditional Queenstown things to do: hiking (known as tramping in New Zealand), fishing, horse-riding, cycling, climbing, skiing, white-water rafting, sailing and kayaking.
Then there are the adrenalin activities like bungy jumping, jet-boating, paragliding, luge-riding, mountain-biking, quad-biking and some other forms of heart-pumping, mobile madness created weekly by lunatic local entrepreneurs.
In addition of course, there's less strenuous golf, lake cruising, steam train rides, tennis, wine tours, scenic drives and hot air ballooning for the less fit tourists.
A luge run (a dry, fast toboggan) in Queenstown, with Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable Mountains. Photo by Yuri Soshnikov.
For summer activities December to February (summer) are the hottest months, with temperatures ranging from lows of 10C (50F) to highs of 23C (75F). February is generally the best month of all, being hotter and drier than the rest.
For winter sports June-August are the months; temperatures range from just below 0C (32F) to 8C (46F) in Queenstown, but of course the action takes place at six ski fields nearby, such as Coronet Peak, 25 minutes drive away.
A Lake Wakatipu walk, Queenstown.
Winter sports operating around Queenstown include snowmobiling, snow-tubing, ice climbing and snow-shoeing, while spas, galleries, shops and a fine selection of bars and restaurants keep the stay-at-homes busy.
Bungee jumping over Queenstown. Photo by Will Ellis.
Possible outings from a Queenstown base include to the most famous tourist destination in the country, a lengthy 295 km (184 mile) but splendid drive to magnificent Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park where a boat trip is one of the indispensable pleasures.
Alternatively stay at little Te Anau township 121 kms from Milford Sound to enable more time there or do the job properly and walk to the Sound from Lake Te Anau over four days on the staggeringly beautiful and well-organised, 53 km Milford Track.
email from Chris:
Queenstown was awesome. Beautiful location, even more beautiful girls and the biggest bungee jump in New Zealand. 134m and 8 seconds of pant-soiling freefall fun. Put it on your list of things to do before you die. They've got a luge too which was real good fun, bit like karting except you're powered by gravity and momentum. We made some really good chums there who very kindly took us with them on a cruise to Milford Sound, Mirror Lakes and joined us for a drink in World Bar, where I think I inadvertently took rohipnol. A lesson to all, especially girls, if two random creepy guys (I'm not talking about me and John obviously) buy you drinks then leave, taking their drinks with them but leaving yours untouched - DON'T DRINK THEM. Unless of course you want to wake up in a field with no memory and a curiously sore bottom.
Cyclists preparing for a day on two wheels in Otago, near Queenstown.
Franz Josef Glacier
A Lake Wombat view of Franz Josef Glacier, South Island.
The Franz Josef Glacier is one of New Zealand's prime attractions, a massive flow of ice not far off a South Island main road. It's not the only glacier in the country but is the most accessible and popular though it should be approached with some caution. In December 2009 two young tourists were killed when the ice cliff they were photographing - from too close, there are rope barriers - collapsed on them.
There are a handful of excellent tracks and walks in the vicinity, ranging from short and easy (such as the 40 minutes along the river bed to the glacier face, as above) to a 4 hour climb up to Alex Knob.
Franz Josef is in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, a World Heritage Area halfway down the South Island's west coast; it's 5 kms from Franz Josef town, which is also the nearest place to stay.
Glacier areas tend to be dynamic due to the contrasting temperatures of the ice and local temperate climate, so conditions can change suddenly, such as unexpected rain and fast-rising water levels on the river bed. Be prepared with good hiking boots and wet/cold weather gear.
A guided tour of Franz Josef with visitors wearing crampons and accompanied by a professional guide, making the walk both safer and the more interesting.
The next most popular glacier in New Zealand and situated in the same Westland Tai Poutini National Park but further south, is Fox Glacier, 171 kms south of Hokitika. Or...
...do some real hiking on a Southern Alps trek.
New Zealand Walks Guide >>>
Great Walks >>>
South Island Photos >>>
North Island Photos NZ Travel Guide NZ Pictures