Beyond the Glaciers: What to See & Do
Skydive NZ (tel. 0800/751-0080 in NZ, or 03/751-0080; www.skydivingnz.co.nz) takes you up around the side of Mount Cook and over some of the most awesome scenery in the country. Then lucky you gets to jump 2,700m (8,900 ft.) for NZ$300.
Glacier Country Lake Tours, 64 Cron St., Franz Josef (tel. 0800/525-386 in NZ, or 03/752-0244; www.ecocruise.co.nz), takes cruises on nearby, mirrorlike Lake Mapourika. Bird-watchers will love this one, as the lake edge is home to some of New Zealand's rarest species. Photographic opportunities abound here, so make sure you have your camera ready. The scenery is beautiful. They operate daily at 9:30am, 11:30am, 1pm, and 3pm all year, with additional cruises at 5pm and 7pm from October through March. The ecocruise costs around NZ$105 for adults, NZ$55 children (4-12), and NZ$2455 for a family.
The West Coast's wet weather is great news for rafters; if you want to see how brave you really are, join Eco Rafting Adventures, 15 Stewart St., Ross, north of Franz Josef (tel. 0508/669-675 in NZ, or 03/755-4254; www.ecorafting.co.nz), for an unforgettable day on otherwise inaccessible Grade IV and V rivers. You'll get there by helicopter, and multiday hike and raft options cost NZ$250 to NZ$1,500. They have a fun family rafting and floating adventure for NZ$160 for adults, NZ$130 for children 5 to 15. It's your best chance to get into an untouched wilderness.
Walkers and trampers should stop by either visitor center to collect Department of Conservation material on the numerous tracks in the area. The Copland Track is a popular overnight round-trip that provides a glimpse of Westland's spectacular scenery, with the natural hot pools at Welcome Flat an added attraction. Rainfall in the area is high, so come well equipped and always sign in (and out) before undertaking any hike.
Another walk takes you to a seal colony at Gillespies Beach, a 21km (13-mile) drive from Fox village. Take Cook Flat Road-Lake Matheson Road from the village and follow the signs to the beach. The last 11km (7 miles) of the road are unpaved. Allow 3 hours round-trip.
If all this exercise seems positively tedious, why not take a quiet after-dark amble to Fox's mini glowworm dell? Wait until it's very dark, and keep quiet. There is a short track just off the main road opposite the BP gas station. There is a small charge for adults, but children enter free. The ultimate way to relax after all this adventure, though, is to soak in divine hot pools at the Glacier Hot Pools, Cron Street, Franz Josef (tel. 0800/044-044 in NZ, or 03/752-0099; www.glacierhotpools.co.nz), set in native rainforest. They have three lovely fern-enclosed public pools, three private pools, and lovely massage facilities; they're open from noon to 10pm (closed Dec 25). Admission to the public pool (for an unlimited duration) is NZ$23 for adults and NZ$17 for children (16 and under). Private pools (for 45 min.) cost NZ$45 per person. Massage rates range from NZ$85 (30 min.) to NZ$185 (1 1/2 hr.).
Lake Matheson & Lake Mapourika
Lake Matheson, 5km (3 miles) from Fox Glacier township, shows up on all the postcards, but what the pretty pictures don't show is the wonderful Lake Matheson Walk, an easy track around the lake that takes about 1 1/2 hours. You'll enjoy great views of Mount Cook (on the right) and Mount Tasman (to the left), and if you go to the lake before dusk, you can watch the mountains turn pink in the sunset - along with plenty of other sightseers doing exactly the same thing. When the lake and air are still, you'll be able to get one of those famous photographs of the mountains perfectly reflected in the water. Café Lake Matheson is at the parking area where the walk starts; it's open daily from 7am to 5pm.
Lake Mapourika, 9km (5 1/2 miles) north of Franz Josef, is the largest lake in Westland National Park and deserves attention for its arresting reflections and setting. You can swim and fish, or opt for a peaceful cruise.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.