best lakes new zealand©
best lakes new zealand

Kayaking Franz Josef’s Mirror Lake


121 Days on the Road

Franz Josef really is a stunning and action-packed part of New Zealand. Just when you think you’ve seen as much as you can when skydiving over the Southern Alps and ice exploring on the glacier itself, there are more epic landscapes to uncover. Today, we’re talking about the glassy and glacial Lake Mapourika.

It’s our last morning nestled among the ferns of the Rainforest Retreat. We get our work completed early morning so that we can arrive for our kayaking tour on time!

Greetings from Tui

Morning missions accomplished, we rock up in the sun to the base of Glacier Country Kayaks. Can you believe that they have someone on the roadside waiting to greet you as you arrive?! Now, that is customer service! A black dog walks towards us wagging its tail and leads us back to Glacier Country Kayaks as we walk down the street.

We meet Bronwyn, who introduces us to Tui the dog and our guides Dale and Izzy. Izzy is another German working holidaymaker with an awesome job in Franz Josef!

Paddling politics

After signing an electronic waiver (another trend in Franz), Dale is bringing the group together to get into a van pulling a trailer load of kayaks. We are joined by two Canadian friends who are going to take single kayaks and a Swiss couple going in a double kayak. As we discovered last time we went kayaking, we much prefer being as far away as possible from each other when paddles are involved so we’re hopping in doubles with the guides! (We jest, it’s just for work-related reasons but it’s always more fun to make a nonsense story out of it).

A land formed by glaciers

We’re in the van making our way to Lake Mapourika, but you can always tell a guide is super knowledgeable when there is so much to explain before we have even left town! Dale tells us where a hill we can see down the road marks a fault line that goes right through the petrol station, for instance.

Instead of just mindlessly seeing gorgeous scenery, its put into context thanks to Dale who’s passionate about the area he has lived most of his working life. All of what we are driving through has been formed by the Franz Josef Glacier, from the lower forested hills around us to the lake we are about to kayak on.

Even the views from the lakeside are stunning with a long jetty stretching out into the dark Lake Mapourika.

Getting our skirts together

Kayaks set up, sexy spray skirts and life jackets on, we are given a run-through by Izzy on how to paddle, steer and get out of a kayak in the unfortunate but unlikely event that you capsize. (However, in summer, this wouldn’t be so bad as the water is meant to get to a comfortable temperature thanks to its heat-absorbing darkness).

Free (and decent) photos!

We also have the option to grab some dry bags for cameras and whatnot, but both Dale and Izzy take some shots of everyone during the tour on high-quality cameras, which we all get for free! That way, we can immerse ourselves more in the experience rather than worry about taking shots. (By “we”, we mean “you guys” because our job is to worry about taking shots)…

Mirror lake missions

Out on the water, we paddle along the rainforest-fringed lake then glide out into the middle where the water is so still that it created the perfect mirror reflections! Not only can we see our own reflections, but those of the mighty rainforest and snowy Southern Alps!

We stop plenty of times for Dale and Izzy to take photos of us and for Dale to explain why the lake is so dark, to point out the two highest peaks, to explain how the lake was formed, and more! Plus, answering all our questions about this incredible landscape.

Back along the shallow shores, we spot a long-finned eel slithering closely under our boats, then it’s a push through and between fallen trees in the water.

A “bumpy” ride through the creek

The great thing about kayaks is that they can squeeze through anywhere including a narrow bush-clad creek! The Swiss couple lead the way bumping into every bush and branch they can find, which is hilarious to watch from behind. (And especially when you think you’re killing it with your kayaking skills… But, oh wait, we have a skilled guide in the back of the kayak). Even the ducks are laughing.

Tasting bushman spices

Once we get as far up the creek as we dare go, we gather together for Dale to give us a green and red leaf. This leaf is all too familiar to us as we have been tricked into tasting its peppery juices in the Abel Tasman! Nevertheless, it’s pretty fun watching the others eat the horopito for the first time with a disgusted look on their face.

Maori legends

In this bushy creek, we just happen to be in the heart of the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary, where its story time! We’ve heard many Maori legends on the road in New Zealand, but damn, Dale has a knack for telling them and one we haven’t yet heard: how the kiwi bird lost its wings. He even tells it in the most Kiwi-way possible, complete with the “yeah-nahs” and such.

Southern Alps views

Now it’s back down the creek for more fun Kodak moments. Going the opposite way across the lake gives us the perfect views of the snowy mountains that have now attracted wisps of clouds. That’s what we love about the West Coast (and New Zealand in general), the weather is always changing, changing the views along with it!

It’s a final fierce paddle back onto shore! The kayaks are left for the next tour, and we’re heading back into Franz Josef where we’re told where our photos will be.

Leaving Franz behind

We have a quick lunch with Bronwyn, Dale, Izzy and Tui before getting back on the road! Man, we’ve had an insane time in Franz Josef, heli-hiking onto a glacier, doing the Southern Hemisphere’s highest skydive, relaxing in the Glacier Hot Pools and kayaking on the stunning Lake Mapourika. Our next stop is to more glacial goodness and Franz Josef’s brother, Fox Glacier!

The start of a new glacial adventure

A winding rainforest and mountainous drive brings us to the small settlement of Fox. But the hum of helicopters indicates that this place might just be as adventurous as Franz Josef. We’ll have to wait and see! We’re checked-in at the Ivory Towers Backpackers and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather stays this sunny and calm that we can get onto the Fox Glacier tomorrow. Join us then!

Feeling so small in the mighty lake Mapourika!

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