A warm welcome in the ice

After a hard day trekking glaciers, Guy Wilkinson enjoys a well-deserved soak.

I've just hiked a mammoth glacier. Freezing rain pelted us all day. Due to the conditions, our guide marched us up and down at breakneck speed.

Back at my hotel, I have the shivers, my clothes are soaking and my whole body aches like tetanus.

"You look like a dip in the hot pools might do you good," quips the receptionist, taking one look at me.

"Hot pools?"

He's barely had time to explain when I'm in my car and screeching out the driveway.

In the heart of the tiny alpine village of Franz Josef, the Glacier Hot Pools is a welcome new addition to a region full of outdoor adventure types.

Opened in November last year by Ngai Tahu Tourism, the complex is the first facility of this kind to grace the west coast region of New Zealand's South Island.

I arrive to see the whole complex has a classy, modern feel. The changing rooms are all posh slate tiles and power showers but it's only when stepping outside that you get a true sense of what's in store.

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Nestled among towering fern trees are three large pools. Steam rises into the crisp alpine air. All around, people kick back, their eyelids at half-mast. From the surrounding rainforest you can hear the call of native birdlife. The ambience is perfect: not a Pan Pipe Moods CD within earshot.

Strolling the wooden decking between pools, I survey the various temperatures on small plaques. There's a choice.

The first pool is a tepid 36 degrees; the second a more challenging 38. Those looking to boil their aches into submission can opt for the fiery 40-degree burner. I take the middle option. It feels sensational. My legs stop pounding almost instantly.

It's clear a lot of thought has gone into the construction of this multimillion-dollar facility. Built in the midst of a rainforest, it must have been a controversial proposal. But somehow it all blends in perfectly with its surroundings.

Great care has gone into the aesthetics. Sheets of tarpaulin hang between trees, providing shelter from the rain. The wooden decking and panelling throughout lends a vaguely Eastern feel.

And if you're worried about crowds, you needn't be. Couples or groups can rent private pools for around $NZ40 ($32) a head for 45 minutes. Otherwise, you can take the indulgence to another level and enjoy a massage. A 30-minute session starts at $NZ80.

Part of what makes the glacier pools such a rewarding experience is the knowledge you've earned the right to indulge. With Franz Josef village acting as a gateway to countless adventure pursuits, it's unlikely you'll have spent the day couch surfing. There are dozens of activities to pick from here.

Just a few minutes away, the Franz Josef Glacier is obviously the star attraction. Choose from full- or half-day guided hikes or even ride a helicopter to the upper summits.

A few kilometres further is the equally celebrated Fox Glacier, where similar options exist. And if hiking glaciers isn't your thing, you could always try kayaking or horse riding or even take an air safari over some of the world's most breathtaking terrain.

Alternatively, the indoor ice-climbing wall at the nearby Hukawai Glacier Centre is worth a look. With a 200-square-metre ice chamber and 10-metre-high wall, it's the perfect training ground to prepare for the real thing.

Finally, it's time to haul myself from the water. As the pools are open until 10pm, you could sit here all day. Tomorrow I'll continue my long drive up the west coast. At least I know my body will be far less sore for this experience.

The writer was a guest of Glacier Hot Pools

TRIP NOTES

Getting there

Franz Josef village is located on New Zealand's West Coast about five hours from Queenstown or six hours from Christchurch by car. Flights from Sydney to Queenstown start about $450 one-way plus taxes. Flights to Christchurch start at $220 one-way. See flightcentre.com.au. For car rentals see tourism.net.nz and click on the transport tab.

Staying there

For stylish motel suites in a rainforest setting try Punga Grove. A one-bedroom unit starts at $NZ200 ($161). See pungagrove.co.nz. Glenfern Villas offers luxurious one- and two-bedroom apartment-style accommodation. Rates start at $NZ195 twin-share September to April, $NZ145 May to August. See glenfern.co.nz.

The hot pools

On Cron Street, Franz Josef village, the Glacier Hot Pools are open from noon to 10pm. Single entry is $NZ22.50. See glacierhotpools.com.

Further information

See glaciercountry.co.nz.

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