New Zealand Road Trip – Queenstown to Franz Josef (and back)
If you live in New Zealand then there is no excuse not to have this particular trip on your Bucket List, for the citizens of the world I’m giving you yet another reason to add New Zealand to your “Countries I must visit before I die” list. With the Auckland to Coromandel road trip well exhausted and if you’re tired of leaving Rotorua with a lingering odour in your clothes it may be time to branch out a little further afield and try something new. With scenes so picturesque and landscapes untouched. From snow-capped mountain ranges to glistening reflective lakes, where the colours seem so saturated and air so much fresher than any other part of the country (or world for that matter) a road trip from Queenstown to Franz Josef will leave you reenergised and connected to our beautiful surroundings.
Getting There and Around
My trip started in Auckland, leaving on an 8:05am flight on our national carrier Air New Zealand through to Queenstown (usually 1 hour 40 mins approx). However with frequent flights to Queenstown you won’t be short of options, times, prices or carriers so pick what suits you. Once you’ve made it to Queenstown you have several options of how to get around.
IF you’re staying in Queenstown for a few days before the start of your road trip and your accommodation is within walking distance of the local township then by all means save a bit of money and use,
- Public transport, the bus service runs frequently into town, however on top of the fare they add $8 for pick up within the airport vicinity. So a quick tip (if you can be bothered) take a walk down to the shopping complex and pick up the bus from there if you can’t bear to spend the extra dosh. Otherwise expect to pay $12pp (approx).
- Taxi’s in New Zealand aren’t cheap, regardless compared to other forms of transport in the area they’re all very similar. So if there are more than two of you this may be a convenient option. Expect to pay $30 (upwards) for a trip into town. Even though it is a small town traffic can build up so keep that in mind (they also add an airport fee like the bus). A good to know is that Queenstown does NOT have Uber so this isn’t an option while staying here.
- Shuttle services leave frequently from the airport, with similar costing to the bus this is an easy alternative dropping you to your hotel (you will have to share with others which means you more than likely will stop at other hotels before yours).
- Hire a car, upon arrival you will walk through a cornucopia of hire car companies, all with different prices and styles. So by all means ask around before you decide on what you want. Remember if you don’t need the car straight away, save some money and hire it later at one of the companies within the township. Otherwise if hiring at the airport Jucy will be most likely your cheapest option (if you don’t mind driving with a Jucy sign on the side of your vehicle). Something to keep in mind, during peak times it can be very hard to hire a car, we unintentionally decided to head down during the Queenstown marathon and as a result ALL rental cars at the airport were booked (however managed to find a company in the town with cars that were on par price wise with Jucy so it worked out for us but to avoid mishaps and blunders that could put a dampener on your road trip book ahead or make sure you travel during off-peak times).
Activities (What To Do)
There will never be a dull moment on a trip to Queenstown. Queenstown is the tourist capital of New Zealand and for good reason the town itself is jam-packed full of classic tourist hot spots with major must do highlights. It is also a gateway to head out further that will lead you to some iconic must see and dos in our beautiful country. While in Queenstown we stayed for three nights with such memorable experiences planned for each day. Here’s a list of what we did and what I employ you to do too! (In order of what we did first to last).
Now, there is a reason why this was our first stop in Queenstown and why I’m even including this in my “what to do” section. A stop at Ferburger is not just a place to eat it is an entire experience in itself. Hands down the BEST burger I’ve had. Ever. In my life. Worldwide. That is why you will very rarely find Fergburger without a hefty line, however Ferburger employees are burger professionals and wait times considering the amount of burgers they have to make isn’t as long as you’d expect.
Must Try: Little Lamby (I get this EVERY time)
Prices: Range from $10 – $15 (worth every cent I promise)
The Ferg establishment also have a Bakery (try the Lemon Meringue) and a Gelato Store (Hazelnut was my favourite flavour) all next door, so you’ll never go hungry while in that line.
Heli Tours Queenstown
There is no better way to view the surrounding areas of Queenstown then from the inside of a Helicopter. It is astounding how close you get to the environment, through valleys, hovering and climbing up and over sheer ice covered mountain ranges to land right on top of a glacier, the ride alone is incomparable to anything else. To land on a glacier and be surrounded by a pure white landscape and glowing blue pot holes within the ice will leave you stunned beyond belief that a place like this even exists and you’re standing right in the middle of it all.
Prices: As you can imagine an experience like this doesn’t come cheap but you will love every second of it. A package like this with Heli Tours Queenstown will cost $595pp. Find a package that suits you, there is PLENTY to pick from.
Milford Sound NZ
This particular experience is something that brings swarms of tourists to our shores and a place that you will most likely find on every kiwis bucket list. Milford Sound simply put is a fiord which is a long, narrow, deep inlet of sea nestled between high cliffs. However there is no simple way to describe the beauty that is Milford Sound. The most unspoilt and untouched environment that I have ever seen, with fur seal colonies basking on rocks, dolphins passing through, the odd whale if you’re lucky. Waterfalls cascading down cliff faces and rainforest to fill in the blanks. If that hasn’t prompted you to jot down this destination on the “to do list” I don’t know what will.
Logistics: Queenstown to Milford is a long journey (about 5 hours) but a common one made from Queenstown therefore tourist companies are well set up for this and make these trips every day. Make it easy on yourself and book a tour like we did with Cruise Milford. With pick up points in Queenstown and a large coach to make the journey comfortable you can enjoy the scenery without having to drive yourself. (Some tips, get on at the first pick up point and sit right at the front, you have the side views and a perfect view from the massive front window. Bring snack and plenty of water).
Prices: $195 for an all-day experience.
Onsen Hot Pools
A trip to Queenstown would be incomplete without a dip in these private hot pools. Your own private spa looking out across rolling lush mountains, greenery and a gushing river (where you’ll see the shot over jet race past). Morning, Noon or Night each offer a different feel and experience but neither will disappoint.
Important tip: Book WELL in advance! Evening sessions are most popular, cost more but are very atmospheric.
Prices: Prices will range based on how many people and the time of day. A day time session for 2 adults will cost $95 and the evening session for 2 adults $119.
Gondola and Luge
Head up the Gondola for the best views in the house, then race back down the luge!
Tips: Secure all items, things tend to fly when racing top speed down the luge race way. Pay for a few rides you’ll definitely want more and head straight for the harder track it is the most fun and sends you flying!
Prices: Will depend on the package you pick but between them there isn’t that big of a price difference, definitely pick the packages with 3 or more rides. The price ranges for the Gondola and Luge from $49 – $59.
Queenstown is a tourist hub and is well set up for any type of traveller. Backpackers to luxury accommodation you’ll find something to suit your style. However for the middle of the roaders Queenstown is not the cheapest for accommodation, you may be able to find a cheap deal during off-peak season. We stayed at the Blue Peaks Apartments, which could have easily housed 6 people. It was in a great location, 15 mins from the airport, a quick walk down the hill dropped you in the centre of town and the apartment itself was lovely.
Prices: 3 nights’ accommodation $1050 (This was the cheapest available, remember we were there for the Queenstown marathon, but worth the money).
Tips: Be smart about the place you pick, try to get as close to town as possible and get your money’s worth it may cost a tiny bit more or in my case less to book an apartment rather than a hotel room which works out well for everyone.
The Road Trip (Queenstown – Franz Josef)
Time to destination: 5 Hours (Google maps) 7 hours (Reality, with the amazing sights on the way, stops will definitely be a must, at least on the way there).
Stops: Wanaka, Blue Lakes, Fantail Falls (plus the numerous amount of other falls you’ll come across), not to mention all the lookouts you’ll pass.
Drive: Easy to Moderate (for any seasoned road tripper the drive itself is easy not to mention picturesque, however for tourists not used to our roads take your time and pay attention to the road signs and you’ll be fine.
After an absolute whirlwind of activities and burger eating in Queenstown we hired a car to road trip all the way up the west coast of the South Island to visit a pair of renowned glaciers Fox Glacier and Franz Josef (again people travel far and wide to make it to these destinations).
Leaving Queenstown at 10:05am in our little Nissan Note to head straight up route 6 all the way to Franz Josef. Expect to be in awe from the moment you set off, as New Zealanders we’re so used to seeing city, suburbs, beach, forest all in the space of a day and this drive in particular will highlight these breath-taking features that we often take for granted and on a much larger scale.
Each major stopping point will be on route 6 making this journey really easy to navigate to the point where you can put google maps away and save your batteries for all the pictures you’ll be taking. The first major stop I would recommend is WANAKA! Buy an award-winning pie from the bakery (WARNING: from this point onwards your diet is going to consist of Pies, Ice Cream and Fish and Chips) and eat lake side. Then take a walk around the lake to see the most photographed tree in New Zealand “The Lone Tree of Lake Wanaka”, shallow enough to walk out to (I saw another tourist walk out to it and hang off it, please be careful when doing so, the amount of hearts you would break if you snapped off a branch from our famous tree. You’d be deported instantly). Once you’ve soaked up the wonder of the Lone tree head straight back out on route 6.
Dotted along the way there are several important stops you’ll come across, all clearly sign posted and you’ll see the cars parked up too.
The Blue Pools: Water bluer then blue! If you’re brave enough take a dip.
Fantail Falls: A fanned out waterfall settled within greenery. (There are so many waterfalls along the way that you can stop to look at, the perfect road trip for a waterfall chaser).
The Look Outs: With numerous look outs you’ll be spoilt for choice through the course of your drive.
Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Upon arrival into the towns (about 20 minutes’ drive apart) you’ll reach Fox Glacier first. I highly recommend that you set yourself up in Franz Josef, as this is the bigger town of the two and surprisingly, considering the size plenty of accommodation options to suit all preferences we stayed at The Scenic Hotel for 2 nights, which was priced at approx $500. There are about 4 restaurants to choose from (we ate at Snake Bite it was super tasty) and there is a Four Square which is a very tiny supermarket (and a tad overpriced, you could consider bringing your own food). Like every good town in New Zealand there is a Hot Pool (40 degrees hot) to enjoy after your Glacier walks.
We visited both Glaciers in a day. Tourist should know that the walk itself and accessing the glacier can be done without a guide, these are very easy nature walks and will get you as close as possible (closer than I expected and without taking a helicopter onto the glaciers themselves). However if you have no knowledge of the Glaciers and the surrounding environment and want to learn on the go a guided tour is easy to organise within the town.
Was a very easy walk with a raging grey river and a triple feature set of waterfalls that lead up towards the Glacier.
Shorter and slightly harder walk (the hill at the end will take your breath away LITERALLY, but don’t let that deter you).
Thoughtful Tip: If you’re visiting these phenomenal sights I would probably be right in assuming you’d have research a bit about them. However if you haven’t, it may make this visit more meaningful if you knew how colossal and powerful these glaciers once were and sadly how much they have receded over time. It really is the perfect example of how much the power of man impacts on the beauty of nature.
These little towns are remote and peaceful so enjoy your time here with numerous nature walks to enjoy before charging back to Queenstown. After two full days we journeyed back along the path we had taken to Queenstown to fly back to Auckland. However these aren’t your only options you could carry on up the coast for more beautiful scenery towards Greymouth (2 hours from Franz Josef) or dart cross-country for a bit of sophistication in Christchurch (4 hours from Franz Josef)
I did this trip over the course of five days, as I live in New Zealand making it a lot easier, however I would recommend to anyone use five days as a minimum. Getting to explore this part of my country was an absolute treat and a must do for myself and should be for all who enjoy nature in all its untouched raw glory the magical sights our unique country has to offer. Only in New Zealand.