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 10 Days in the South Island Day 5

A small group glacier walk on Franz Josef Glacier

10 Days in the South Island Day 5 -  Punakaiki to Franz Josef!

Another day of excitement today as we continue our South Island adventure.

State Highway 6 will take us further South to the village of Franz Josef, home to one of the region's amazing glaciers.

You can read about the glaciers on our dedicated page here.

Looking north from Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki
Handy Tips

1) You can view our route map at the bottom of the page. You can zoom in and out for more detail.

2) Want to take the same route as us? Feel free to hire a car and use this itinerary as a guide, or fill out the form at the bottom of the page to talk to one of our local experts. We can put together a fully packaged self drive tour for you.

3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.

4) There is much less traffic in New Zealand than in many other countries, and the roads are well sealed, so driving is easy, as long as you drive to the conditions. In winter, "grit trucks" patrol the highways and when there is snow or ice about, they drop fine grit onto the roads to improve grip.

After a cooked brekkie at Wave Watchers, we pack our things into the car and take a few minutes to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. The West Coast is a special place and if you have the time, we recommend spending a few days here to explore the region, including Paparoa National Park.

Wave Watchers at Punakaiki

And we highly recommend a night or two at Wave Watchers.

Today's trip will cover around 217 kilometers and will take around 3 hours.

Along the way we will pass through the towns of Greymouth and Hokitika.

We can't believe it, but once again the weather is fine and sunny. The West Coast has one of the more variable climates in the country, and conditions can change very quickly, as the prevailing winds push cloud in from the West. We count our blessings and hope that our lucky run continues!

Punakaiki Resort

We wave goodbye to Wave Watchers and head back out onto SH6. A minute or two up the road we pass the Pancake Rocks then head down the hill past the Punakaiki Resort, another favorite of ours. We've stayed here several times and the location on the beach is hard to beat. They also have a restaurant and bar, perfect for watching the sunset.

From the beach front here it's possible to look South across the ocean and see Mt Cook and the Southern Alps in the distance. Wow!

The drive from Punakaiki to Greymouth takes about 30 minutes and follows the coast for most of the journey.

Greymouth is the largest settlement on the West Coast, with a population of around 10,000. Supported by mining, fishing, forestry and tourism, Greymouth sits at the mouth of the Grey River, which we cross as we enter town.

The stunning Punakaiki coastline

If you haven't yet had breakfast, there are various cafes in town (including McDonald's) and it's also a good spot to top up the fuel. If you happen to be stopping here for the night, we recommend a tour of the local Monteith's brewery.

10 Kilometers south of town, the heritage park known as Shantytown is well worth a visit if you have time. This re-creation of an 1850's mining village is a great place to take the family. You can ride a steam train, pan for gold, and even have your picture taken dressed in a period outfit.

We continue on towards Hokitika, around 40 kilometers away. Soon it comes into view, and on the outskirts of Hokitika we pass the Shining Star log cabins, which sit proudly perched next to the ocean. Several years back we stayed here for the night and loved the beach front location. Perhaps next time......

The Mountain Jade shop in Hokitika

We continue into town and stop to stretch the legs and have a coffee. From the main street, Mount Cook and the Southern Alps are clearly visible, and are at their best at this time of year with their heavy cover of snow.

Best known as the Greenstone Capital of New Zealand, Hokitika was founded in 1864, when gold was discovered in the area.

A couple of years later, it was one of the most populated towns in the country, and at one stage in 1867, there were over 40 vessels moored at the local wharf on the Hokitika River, evidence of the booming export gold trade. There were also more than 100 hotels! Coal mining and forestry were also once major contributors to the local economy, but as with the gold industry, they have dwindled over time.

A jade pendant

These days, Greenstone (also known as Pounamu, or Jade), draws visitors to the town. There are various local shops selling jade carvings, sculptures and jewellery, and you can even watch the local artisans creating their wares.

You can read more about New Zealand jade here.

After a refreshing coffee we head outside and the girls head into one of the jade shops. As Dave and I chat in the street we hear people yelling and a lot of noise. We turn to see a thoroughbred horse galloping down the street towards us. We step back and the startled horse rushes past, shortly followed by two carloads of concerned "chasers" who stop and ask us "where did it go!". We point them down the street and off they go. By this stage the street is full of people who have heard the commotion. We didn't get to find out what happened but hope that everything ended well. We comment that that might be the most exciting thing to happen here in a while !

Hokitika though, is a good place to stop for a night. There are a range of motels and restaurants, lots of great walks, a local museum, and even a picture theatre.

Alpine Glacier Motel Franz Josef

After our horse encounter, we hop back into the car and turn back onto SH6. It's around 10 am, and Franz Josef village is around 130 kilometers away (around one and a half hours drive).

The highway follows the coast for a while before heading inland. The snow capped alps are ever present on our left hand side, and in some spots all we can see is mountain! I've said it many times to customers and friends.....every bend in the road on the South Island reveals a new, even better picture opportunity than the last!

Time flys by as we recount our trip so far, and before we know it, we arrive at Franz Josef village. Tonight we have booked two spa studio rooms at the Alpine Glacier Motel. At around NZ$140 per room, it's good value, and is around the corner from the main street and the pubs and restaurants.

The view from our room at Alpine Glacier motel Franz Josef village

We are greeted by the friendly owners, and check into our rooms. They are spotless, spacious, and from the deck, offer an awesome view of the mountains.

After unpacking we head around the corner to one of the pubs, The Landing. We sit outside and soak up the sun with a wine and local beer (Speights) before ordering lunch. Two of us choose the seafood chowder, one has the whitebait fritter, and I select the steak sandwich. When our meals arrive, they are HUGE! Our meals in NZ have been wonderful, and these are no exception. Great food and friendly hosts (the owner stops for a chat with us) provide the perfect setting for us to unwind after our trip.

Lunch at The Landing, Franz Josef

Of course Franz Josef (and the nearby "twin" Fox Glacier) are famous for the mighty glaciers which make their way from the mountains down towards the sea. Over the years we have been on walks to the glacier face, but perhaps our most memorable experience was an exhilarating helicopter flight and snow landing years back. It was not exactly cheap, but it's one of those things that you have to do. Flying over the glacier allows you to see the endless caves and crevices and the huge snowfield at the top is almost beyond belief.

If time and budget allow, we recommend a heli flight and landing. Be aware though that flights are very dependent on the weather.

If you can't make a flight, you can always take the short 10 minute drive out of town and make the walk to the face of Franz Josef. You will need to wear good walking shoes as the round trip can take one and a half to two hours. And best of all, it's free!

Franz Josef ice cave pic courtesy

There is lots to see and do in the area. As with most parts of New Zealand, there are walks, including guided ice walks, the West Coast Wildlife Centre (where you can see the flightless kiwi), and a range of restaurants, pubs and gift shops.

And after a long day, you can soak away your cares at the Glacier Hot Pools, in Cron Street. With a range of public and private pools, and a perfect rainforest location, it's a great spot to lay back and reflect on the day's activities.

We loved our accommodation at the Alpine Glacier Motel. We have also stayed at, and can recommend Punga Grove and the Rainforest Retreat. Both are in the village and, importantly, are close to all amenities.

You can read more about them and make a booking by clicking on the highlighted links above.

Our Franz Josef Heli landing back in the 1990's

After lunch we have a wander around the local shops and buy a few trinkets and some groceries for breakfast from the local supermarket.

We head back to our motel to rest up for a few hours before tea (it's amazing what a few drinks and some sun can do to you!).

After a rest we decide that we will eat in our rooms tonight, so we cook up a feed, and relax. Fortunately our rooms come equipped with a basic kitchen, and we made sure when planning our trip that we could self cater at most locations.

It's an early night for us. Tomorrow we have our longest drive of our holiday as we head to the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka, around 4 to 5 hours drive away.

It's been another great day.

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