With some 140 glaciers making their way down from the Southern Alps, this area is fittingly known as glacier country. Few sights equal the spectacle of two of these giant frozen rivers (Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers) imperceptibly grinding their way down through the temperate rainforest to just 250 meters above sea level. We’ll spend most of the day near Franz Josef Glacier where our hike will take us from the Franz Josef township, along the Waiho River bed up the valley to Sentinel Rock. Sentinel Rock emerged from beneath the glacier in 1865 and is an example of how the glacial ice ground the hard schist bedrock into a Roche moutonnee or ‘rock sheep’.
After we re-group and enjoy lunch, we'll drive to a little-known beach community on the coast, Okarito. Okarito is home to the only native white heron colony in New Zealand, as well as a host of other interesting birds like the Okarito brown kiwi! We'll take to the water in sea kayaks and glide along a picturesque lagoon, set against a stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks. And if there's time tonight you can venture out after dark to listen to some of New Zealand’s nocturnal birdlife, such as the morepork owl.
Rainforest Resort, Franz Josef (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Hiking: Sentinel Rock Hike: 10.2 kilometers, 3 hours, elevation +/- 112 meters (365 feet)
Kayaking: 3 hours
Notes: Optional Heli-hike (extra fee applies): An outrageously scenic alternative to this afternoon’s hike is to heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier itself. After being fitted with crampons, ice axes and so on, you’ll board a modern turbine helicopter and fly towards the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, landing on the glacier at 1300 meters (4265 feet) above sea level. Led by specialist glacier guides, you’ll hike through the grand ice formations of the glacier, checking out its crevasses, seracs and tunnels – no previous experience is required! The constant movement of the glacier means every day is different, so your guides will cut steps in the ice and make sure you make the most of the conditions. At the end of your hike on the ice, you’ll take another helicopter ride out of the mountains and back to civilization.
The heli-hike is extremely popular and must be reserved at time of booking only.
The is also a weight limit of 115kg (250 pounds).