Welcome to the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where glow worms roam and glaciers shimmer in the afternoon sun (if there ever is any). The West Coast sees the most rainfall in New Zealand, so if you venture to these parts you’re bound to get wet, but the rugged scenery and radiating wildlife makes it an area not to be missed. Keep reading as I search for glaciers and glow worms in Franz Josef!
Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier has retreated a long way over the years, and while it would have been cool to see it at its peak, the retreating beast has left behind a pretty amazing valley to walk through. That valley is best seen from Sentinel Rock, a short detour of around 20 minutes from the main track. The sun was shining at the top of the rock so we stopped for lunch and admired the views, but just as we were about to get back to glacier business, the rain started. It would continue (on and off) for the next couple of hours, but even driving rain and howling winds aren’t enough to bring you down from a high that being in such an amazing place brings you.
On the way to the glacier walk car park
We walked though the valley, eventually arriving at the edge of the glacier. You can’t actually walk on it (without taking a helicopter tour), but just seeing such a force of nature up close like that is more than enough. The rain was getting heavier, but occasionally it seemed like it might clear, so we stuck around longer than most in the hopes of getting some miraculous good weather. It didn’t happen, so off we went on the long walk back to town.
READ MORE: Check out my ultimate two week New Zealand itinerary!
Glow worms in Franz Josef
We made two attempts at spotting glow worms in Franz Josef, and I probably shouldn’t tell you how the first one ended (but I will). It was about 10 pm when we set off into the forest in search for the tiny specks of light. We walked for about a minute until a horrible thought entered my mind – this forest must be full of rats (the bus driver on the way to Milford Sound told us there were a lot of rats around at the moment). We quickly retreated, but I vowed to put those thoughts out of my head the next night, and I’m glad I did.
We set off slightly earlier and walked to the end of the Terrace Track (just past the small church on the way out of town). We waited for the last of the daylight to fade and then started our search. I could see faint lights in the distance, but since my eyes are in pretty poor shape I was sure that I was just seeing things. I eventually realised they were glow worms, so I left the track and hunted them down. I thought they’d be the only ones we’d see, but on the way back down the track we came across a few more gangs of glow worms. One little cave/rock thing held about 50 of the little guys, and I managed to get a close up photo – they look a lot different than you’d expect, as only a small part of them lights up. We saw plenty of glow worms that night but thankfully no rats.
Our bus was due to leave at 1.30 pm, which gave us time to explore one of the many walks in the Franz Josef area. We chose Callery Gorge, and although it rained yet again, the moss filled forest and smoky grey water made for a great end to our Franz Josef trip.
Franz Josef is small and almost entirely devoted to tourism. The glacier is the obvious attraction, but there are plenty of walks close to town that could keep you busy for days. There are lots of other places to explore in the area, including Fox Glacier, so if you’ve got the time I’d plan to spend a lot more time in this part of the West Coast than we did. It takes about an hour to reach the Franz Josef car park from town (on foot), and it’s about an hour and a half return trip from the car park to the edge of the glacier. The glow worm walk takes around 30 minutes, but we took a lot longer than that!
READ MORE: I’ve been back to Franz Josef since this post (and had far better weather) — check out my post about the Franz Josef Glacier walk on my South Island focused blog!
Would you like to see glaciers and glow worms in Franz Josef? Have you been to the west coast of New Zealand, and how do you think it compares to other places in New Zealand? Let me know!
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