Road Trip Diaries: Wellington to Franz Josef

If you ever find yourself traveling with me and there is a car involved, know that I will have no shame in forcing anyone but myself to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to navigating potentially tricky situations. Driving has always been a point of anxiety for me, and I will make that known (possibly in the form of a meltdown). The morning we left Wellington for the South Island was such an instance. Not only would we have to take on city streets (I hate driving in cities), but we would be driving onto a huge ferry. I have never done that before, and novelty is not a thing I seek out when it comes to driving experiences. Needless to say, I made Carly take on this task with the agreement that once we arrived on the South Island, I would be driving the rest of the way from Picton to Nelson. What a fool I was…


We actually managed to get on the ferry with ease and settled in for three hours of beautiful views and were even greeted by a pod of dolphins once we neared the South Island. It is touted as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world, and I could see why.


Once we arrived in Picton, we stopped for a quick bite to eat and some wifi usage at Subway and were on our way. It was about a two hour drive from Picton to Nelson, and it was not an easy one. Some parts were beautiful, flat stretches of road with wineries on either side. But a large chunk of the drive consisted of winding curves along cliffs and called for a 20mph speed limit. The sun was at that point in the sky and the windshield was just dirty enough to cause actual blind spots as we cruised around corners. It was a stunning drive, but not a relaxing one at all for me.



We arrived in the quaint little city of Nelson and checked in at Prince Albert Backpackers, which I would highly recommend. We asked the staff for recommendations on what to do, and, in the usual kiwi way, they told us about all the hikes we should do in the area. We were not really feeling up for hiking, so we wandered around the streets until we came upon the local movie theater. We popped inside just to see what the prices were, and it just so happened that Tuesday nights were discount nights. With that, we treated ourselves to a drink, dinner, dessert and an early movie. It was the perfect way to spend our first night on the South Island.


Early the next morning we set out on a 4-5 hour drive to Franz Josef Glacier. Unfortunately the weather took a turn, and it rained most of the drive. We navigated many one-lane bridges, curvy roads, and survived a trip to the sketchiest rest stop of my life. It was a mile off the road down a gravel path and consisted of a decrepit wood outhouse with a rock as a door stop/lock. It didn’t help that a huge storm was passing over at the time.



Scenery from the rest stop.

The weather was still wet and gloomy by the time we arrived in Franz Josef. We couldn’t even see the glacier. It was thundering for what seemed like hours. The drive had worn us out, and for the first time we had a room to ourselves. Night two on the South Island was another low-key night in, and I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about when it came to the South Island. Yes, the scenery we had driven through had been beautiful, but I wasn’t completely awestruck like people told me I would be. Traveling in the time of social media, particularly Instagram, makes it hard not to have expectations when you are bombarded with amazing, often edited, photographs of the country’s most famous landscapes.

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