World’s Most Beautiful Drives: Tekapo to Franz Josef Glacier

Many people don’t realize the beauty of driving through New Zealand’s wilderness. Most of the landscapes just open up right before you as you drive through the well paved, well marked roads. Unlike many other destinations across the world, there isn’t much separating you and the views from your car and the distances are small. This makes the country of New Zealand perhaps the most driveable country in the entire world. 

New Zealand’s Great Drives:
Queenstown – Milford Sound
Queenstown – Glenorchy
Queenstown – Wanaka
Lake Tekapo – Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier – Christchurch

The drive from Lake Tekapo to Franz Josef Glacier rounds at around 7 hours and if you don’t take long breaks along the way. Unfortunately that’s kind of hard to do with the type of scenery you see out the window at every step of the way. So the journey really takes around 10 hours from door to door. You’ll see why I’m saying this when you read the following trip report.

 

I mentioned my journey and time in Lake Tekapo in my previous post. It is an absolutely must visit destination while visiting New Zealand.

The drive from Tekapo to Franz Josef Glacier begins as you traverse the great plains which span the length of the highway connecting Tekapo with Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook National Park. This area is known as Twizel, and you may have already seen it in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Hobbit. As you approach the town of Pukaki and the lake of the very same name, you begin to see Mt. Cook (Aoraki), which is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. The jagged edge of the mountain actually came to be the year I was born (1991) due to a massive rockfall which reduced the height of the mountain by 10m.

There are multiple pullouts along the way to Pukaki which offer expansive views of Mt Cook and the surrounding glaciated peaks. The main information center even features a restaurant and rocky beach hugging the lake.

A bit further up the road is a fork in the road where if you turn right you can drive out the famous Peter’s Lookout from where the iconic long exposure shots of cars and Mount Cook. I visited the location midday so I didn’t get a chance to take that picture. There is a large parking lot off the road where the viewpoint is located:

The journey on State Highway 8 continues through the fantastic Lindis Pass after passing the town of Omarama. The pass was very similar to the the Crown Range Parkway drive I did between Queenstown and Wanaka back in 2015. It’s an area worth photographing in its own right, but this is where I decided to make up some time on the long journey. To be honest this was also the hardest area to photograph because the roads were narrow and there were hardly any pull outs to even snap a cell phone picture.

The next stop on the journey to the West Coast of the South Island leads you between one of the two great lakes of the South Island, Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. By the time I arrived at the place referred to as the “Neck”, the reflections across it were just drop dead gorgeous. The best part: we were the only ones there enjoying the lake.

The next part of the journey led us through the Mount Aspiring National Park and right next to the Makarora River and through the Haast Pass. The road flattens out in this area and there are plenty of pull offs so you can easily get out and soak in all the views.

A little further up the road there is a small parking lot with a short trail to some nearby waterfalls. This particular waterfall is called “Thunder Creek” Falls. It looks like a beautiful waterfall to sit next to and enjoy but the area is FULL OF SANDFLIES. I must have stepped out for a mere 10 minutes, but my entire leg and arms were full of sand fly bites, many of which swelled up quite a bit. I tried to get my picture and leave, but those little devils latched on to my skin and I had bat them all off.  It turns out this is a common problem on the West Coast of New Zealand during the summer. It certainly made spending time outdoors and absolute nightmare!

After leaving the Haast Pass, the road finally turns parallel to the coast where you are met with some magnificent coastline full of Caribbean colours. I had no idea that New Zealand’s coast had such vibrant tropical colours. The unfortunate part about this final stretch of the drive is that it is limited to a few vantage points. The rest of the coastline is full of private property and beaches which are further down the road.

The rock formations and hills in the area really reminded me of certain areas of the Hawaiian islands and the Northern Coast of California. Just an absolute pleasure to behold.

We did stop at one of the roadside beaches (perhaps the only one available along the route) and it had quite some interesting trees meeting a rocky shoreline. The soft sand is nowhere to be found in most of this area as far as I could tell. The fortunate part was that I didn’t see much sand fly activity in the area right along the coast.

The road from this area leads away from the coast quite immediately and you soon begin to drive along a road between the Southern Alps to the East and the Tasman Sea to the West. The road leads by the Fox Glacier and road to Lake Matheson to finally arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier is a bit further up the river, but you know you are at your destination when you look to the right while crossing the bridge and see this fantastic scene with mountains, moss covered rocks, and river bed.

Figuring that I was close enough to my destination, I decided to take one last stop here and soak it all in. Oh yeah there were quite a few sandflies here too so I stepped back into my car and continued to my hotel or what I thought was my hotel. 


This pretty much caps what I consider to be one of the finest drives I have ever gone on. I would rank it only just below the Queenstown to Miford Sound Road, which I consider to be the best. If there is one country I am always yearning to drive through it is most certainly is New Zealand. The distances between places are relatively small, the landscapes are out of this world, and there aren’t many travelers on the road. I actually didn’t see too much traffic along any of the roads I traversed on this journey.

 

TRIP REPORT INDEX:


United Club SFO Concourse F Rotunda
United Global First Lounge – SFO (Now Replaced with the Polaris Lounge)
United NEW Polaris SFO-AKL (777-300ER)
Air New Zealand Economy AKL-CHC
AirBnB Review: Lake Tekapo
Focal Point: Tekapo
World’s Greatest Drives: Tekapo to Franz Josef Glacier
Te Waonui Forest Retreat: Franz Josef Glacier
Focal Point: Lake Matheson
Focal Point: Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Crowne Plaza Christchurch
Manaia (Priority Pass) Lounge Christchurch
Qantas Economy Christchurch – Melbourne
Westin Melbourne
Focal Point: The Twelve Apostles
Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge Melbourne
Singapore Airlines First Class Melbourne – Singapore
Singapore Airlines Private Room @ Changi
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge @ Changi
Singapore Airlines Economy Class Singapore – Hyderabad
Westin Hyderabad Mindspace
Focal Point: Hyderabad – Old City
Plaza Premium Lounge Hyderabad
Etihad Business Class HYD-AUH-DFW
Etihad Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi
Etihad Business Class Lounge Abu Dhabi (US Departures)