City Travels - West Coast
From Wanaka, I took a tour bus all the way to Franz Joseph, and then a few days later further up the coast to Greymouth
I was there from August 15th - August 21th
All prices are given in New Zealand dollars.
If you've read these other posts, you'll be able to guess that I rode with Intercity! However, Intercity outsources it's northbound busses up the West Coast of the south island to another company, but it's difficult to tell the difference in quality. Although I stopped in Wanaka for an evening, I hopped back on the exact same bus line the next day.
The bus up the west coast is actually more of a tour bus. The trip took almost 8 hours, but the bus also stopped at a few short photo stops and two meal breaks. Since the bus route goes right through a national park, these stops are quite appreciated.
A second bus took me from Franz Josef to Greymouth, but also made a big stop in Hokitika for an hour. That gives you enough time to get a taste of the city without having to stay there overnight.
I left Greymouth by the TranzAlpine train to Chirstchurch. While the ticket is expensive, even if you buy in advanced, it is also the only direct transport to Christchurch from the west coast (at least in winter). Your other option is to finish a full loop around the South Island by going to Nelson, Blenhiem, and then Christchurch. If you're following my route, those are all repeat cities (granted, I handled Nelson strangely).
I would also warn any potential travelers to plan this leg of their trip with padding. A few days before I took my trip, the road was closed for two days due to a rockslide. There's only one road, so it very easy to have your plans thrown off by icey or otherwise unusable roads. I purposefully ended this leg of my trip a few days before my flight back home just so I could ensure I'd be back in Christchurch for my flight.
A Place to Stay
In Franz Josef, I stayed at Sir Cedrics Glow Worm Accomidations. The hostel has free, decent wifi, and a nice outdoor area. They also served soup for dinner in their indoor common area, which is also filled with games you can play and VHS movies you can watch. Overall, it was a nice place, but the ceiling in the kitchen was leaking the entire time, and there didn't seem to be too much of an effort to fix it.
The rooms themselves are separated outside just like a motel. I was in a four-person female dorm. There is a small kitchen in each of the rooms, and ensuite bathrooms. However, and this is the biggest however I had on this trip, there was no soap in the bathroom. And it would be constantly flooded, even though the shower was pretty well enclosed. So, while I didn't really like the bathroom, the rest of the room was well decorated and cozy. There was several shelves to set your stuff on, and even a little desk area. Quite cute, but still...soap. Luckily, I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on me at all times.
In Greymouth, I stayed at Global Villiage Backpackers, which was my favorite hostel on the trip.The hostel is extremely well decorated. The kitchen is well stocked and very clean. The wifi works well in the common room (but is not available in guest rooms). There are two sex-separated bathrooms, a large dining area, several decks, and a big couch-filled common room. The dorm beds were solid and didn't shake, and also decorated well. The hostel is in the middle of a residential neighborhood rather than the city center, but it's well worth the walk for the quality.
Franz Josef is tiny. Very, very tiny. You visit Franz Josef to see the glacier, and maybe do some additional walking trails, but otherwise there isn't much else to do. However, you should book multiple days here in case the weather prevents you from visiting the glacier. I happened to have good weather, but it would have been disappointing to come all the way here and not have seen it.
You can walk to the glacier from town, but it is a walk. It took about an hour to walk to the parking lot, and then it take about another hour to walk from the parking lot to the glacier. While you can hire a tour guide, I really don't feel it's worth it, unless you have the budget to spring for a heli-tour.
A heli-tour is going to run you about $300 or more, but it's also the only way to get on the glacier. If you walk, you're only going to see a silver of the glacier from quite the distance as it has receded significantly. I say that as someone who visited in the middle of winter, it may be even smaller in the summer. Sadly, I'd almost say that it's not worth visiting if you can't afford the nicer tours. But the park itself is nice and has several trails.
There's also a trail in town that leads to an old tunnel. This hike is a bit advanced, but seeing the darkness of the tunnel is quite cool. If you have waders, you can also walk into the tunnel, but I would not recommend it without waterproof clothing. A couple who was at the tunnel at the same time as me tried to enter the tunnel barefoot, but they hurt their feet. I didn't bother, as I knew it was flooded, but just wanted to see the entrance.
Hokitika has a beautiful, windy beach. While it's not a beach for sunbathing, it is a nice place to picnic. You can also see the famous driftwood sculptures. I was only in town for an hour, so I can't consider this a full review, but I would recommend making a rest stop here if you have good weather.
Greymouth is also a small town, but there's far more to do than in Franz Josef. The biggest attraction in town is Monteith's Brewery. This is a famous New Zealand beer company, and while their tour is short, it is a very nice bar in general. You can also get a good price on 'pick your own' beers and ciders.
There is also a nice walk along the shoreline if you make your way over there. Some of the other trails the town lists are very poorly maintained though. One trail up on a hill was mostly overgrown, but the entrance was still marked with a fence that had half collapsed. I didn't go on that trail, especially since it was an uphill trek.
I walked everywhere. There is no need for any other option in Franz Josef, except for maybe the walk to the glacier park. While the hostel I stayed at was a bit out of town-center in Greymouth, it was only about a 30 minute walk to the train station, which is manageable.
If you are taking the TranzAlpine train, it will cost you a minimum of $99, and probably more. The train, however, is extremely fancy, with lots of leg room and even electric chargers by your seat. The views are fantastic and there is an audio tour you can listen to with headphones. If you're trying to save money and going out of your way to ride the train: don't. But if you need to travel between the west coast and Christchurch, it is well worth it.
I was still eating the food I had purchased in Queenstown. However, there is a Four Square in Franz Joseph where you can purchase a few items. I also stopped at a Countdown in Greymouth.
I wish I had another day in Greymouth, but it was too expensive to change my train ticket back to Christchurch. While the town isn't super exciting, it's a nice, peaceful place on the ocean and I really enjoyed my hostel.