While in Wanaka I did 2 long(ish) hikes, followed up with a long hiking day in Franz Josef (which is maybe 4.5-5 hours north of Wanaka), and a long walk/ hike in Fox. Here’s a short recap of each of those hikes.
1. Mt. Roy (or Roy’s Peak). This was the first of the three long hikes I did and it was fantastic. I did the hike with 2 American engineers that I met the night before at my hostel (and we geeked out over our mutual love of math, valves and manufacturing). They had a car so we drove the 8km to the trailhead.
Roy’s peak is just a shade under 1 mile high, 1582 meters (1600 meters in a mile). The trail starts at about 200 meters for a total elevation gain of approximately 1400 meters. The trail itself is somewere between 6-8km one way (two maps gave very different estimates). Regardless, this means it’s a steep climb. Very steep.
But the views are incredible thhole way up. Jason and I were faster than Glen, so we hiked about 90% of the trail together and made it up in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Parts of the trail are for sure disheartening as you keep climbing and climbing but the summit never looks any closer. Luckily, at virtually any point you can look over your shoulder and be stunned by the beauty of the mountains and the lake. That helps.
We chose a great day to hike, cloudy to block out the sun, but warm enough and most importantly, pretty clear. It was windy though, and at the summit with nothing to block the wind it got cold fast. My fingers turned entirely white and eventually went numb. We took a few pictures up there, ate lunch and then turned around to descend the same way we came up. Going down took far less time, just 1 hour and 50 minutes. We all found the descent harder on our bodies though. Climbing taxes your legs a little bit (calves for me) but mostly your cardiovascular system, while descending taxes your quads, knees and back. Maybe we’re just getting old (Jason and Glen are 1 year older than I am). All told, 4.5 hours of hiking, plus 1 hour spent at the summit. By the end I was pooped. My legs were tired, especially my knees and I was hungry and sweaty.
2. Rob Roy Glacier. Another beauiful hike. I did this hike 2 days after Roy’s Peak and my legs had not fully recovered. I really am getting old.
I did this hike with yet another American (Tony, who had never been out of the USA before and decided to travel NZ for a year. Badass!). This trail was 51 km from Wanaka, but 32 of those were on an unsealed gravel road that also had multiple ford crossings. Total travel time was slightly over an hour each way. It had rained the night before, which meant snow on the high peaks. The drive in was beautiful with the river, smaller peaks and then the snow capped peaks behind them. Stunning. Also, lots of sheep (had to stop multiple times to let them cross) and cows. Not normal cows, giant cows. 2x the size of a normal cow.
This trail took us up to a lovely view point of Rob Roy Glacier. The galcier itself was across the valley on another mountain but the view was incredible (way better than Franz Josef). It was 3 hours total, with about 30 minutes of stopping to take photos, eat lunch and enjoy the view.
This hike was much easier than Roy’s peak and totally different. The first part is across an open field, then over a suspension bridge and into the woods. I love wooded trails like this, they remind me of hiking in the northeast of the US. Roy’s peak in contrast, was entirely exposed and on the side of the mountain. There we definitely some steep uphills but they were quite short and followed up by lots of flat sections.
The view. As I said, incredible.
My legs hadn’t fully recovered from Roy’s peak so by the end of this hike they were toast. I really am getting old. Also, I fell asleep at 8:30 that night. Practically geriatric over here.
3. Franz Josef Day Hike. 3 days after Rob Roy Glacier I traveled up to Franz Josef, which is yet another galcier. This is probably the most famous glacier in NZ, I assume because you can actually walk on it. The glacier has receeded so much though, that the only way to access it is by helicopter. Since I’ve walked on galciers before, I passed on that and decided to spend the day doing all the short hikes in the area.
The only redeeming quality of these hikes, and more generally this area, is the rainforest. Or, they call it a rainforest, I’m not sure if it officially is or not. It’s gorgeous, with ferns and plants and trees everywhere.
The trails themselves were well maintained but all the trails felt like a consolation, like they needed to create hiking trails to satisfy those who did not want to pay for a helicopter ride to the glacier. The views were medicore, the trails never lead anywhere interesting and all the scenery was virtually the same. I’m glad I did the hikes as in general I enjoy hiking, but I was never satisfied during the hikes. I never had the “that was worth it” moment. All told I spent 5 hours outside, with about 4 and a quarter hiking. The rest was spent eating lunch, enjoying the sun and taking a rest.
Many people love Franz Josef. I am 99% certain those who love it went on a helicopter ride to the glacier. For those that opted out of that activity, the area does not offer much. Funnily enough, I did not realize how dissatisfied I was with my experience here until I just typed it out. On the upside, I did find filter coffee for $2. And my hostel has free breakfast, free Wifi and free soup for $22/ night. That’s something.
4. Fox. Or more aptly Lake Matheson. Fox is another glacier that is 35 minutes south of Franz Josef. It is not as popular as FJ so the town is smaller, it is approximately 1 block long. It too had many of the pitfalls as FJ so I shortened my stay there to only one night. I arrived at 8:30am and decided to walk the 5km to Lake Matheson.
The walk itself is on a road and not terribly interesting, but!, you walk right by where all the helicopters land and take off. Highlight!! You may or may not know that watching planes land and take off is one of my favorite activites (along with star gazing and campfires). So watching helicopters was amazing. So cool. I could have sat there for hours and watched, but the lake beckoned me. The views walking to the lake were lovely. You could see both Fox and Mt. Cook, a rarity as it often clouds over and rains.
The hike around the Lake was decent. It was a 4.4km loop, and with the mountains being clear of clouds it was beautiful. There was also a small cafe at the lake where I ate my lunch (meaning, my picnic lunch that I brought, I did NOT buy lunch there. That’s just ridiculous).
And with that, I think I’m all caught up on my hikes and walks (minus the one I did yesterday). Wohoo for nature!