New Zealand's Southern Lakes are often described as one of the most beautiful places in the world - and for good reason! Driving along the endless road around Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka and on to the stunning West Coast, there is something both wild and familiar about the stunning landscapes around every corner.
Driving through the Haast Pass (somewhat sketchily in my beat up Subaru), I was in awe at the rapidly changing scenery, transforming through from alpine expanses, narrow mountain passes and eventually onto the raw - and to my surprise tropical - coastlines of New Zealand's South Island.
Continuing along the winding West Coast road, I eventually arrived at my destination, Franz Josef, to catch up with an old friend who works as a glacier guide. Turning up in near monsoon rains - apparently, a complete norm for the township that receives a huge 3987 mm rainfall annually - Franz struck me a funny little town. Sleepy, transient and somewhat indiscernible apart from the tourist memorabilia sold in every shop, Franz didn't seem to hold much appeal for me. But I wasn't here for urban dwelling.
As you head inland from the West Coast, temperate rainforest gives way to the impressive peak's of the Southern Alps, and glaciers like Franz Josef and Fox burst down the valleys into eventual braided river systems that lead to the Tasman Sea. A Geographers wet dream (and yes, this counts me with my Bachelor of Science in Physical Geography), Franz Josef truly is one of the gems of New Zealand.
Lucky to hitch a ride up to the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier guides, I hopped on a walking tour around the glacier, crampons and all, to see my first temperate maritime glacier. Aside from the hilariously slow pace of the tour, it was epic to see the ice up close. Fields of oppressive looking seracs give way to impressive ice falls, crevasses and blue meltwater pools. It's obvious why Franz draws crowds to witness it's incredible natural ice structures. They cite it as a #nzmustdo - and I gotta agree!