Franz Josef Glacier

Visit Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, NZ

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  • The Franz Josef Glacier is a 12 km long river of ice that descends from alpine snow fields through a forested landscape to end within 10 km of the Tasman Sea. It has long been popular for ice-walking adventure that provides fantastic views of the Southern Alps, including Aoraki/Mount Cook.

    In the surrounding Westland Tai Poutini National Park are wild rivers that provide challenging runs for kayaking and white-water rafting, as well as scenic walks.

    Near the Tasman Sea, rivers fan out to create wetlands that include the Okarito Lagoon and Waitangiroto Nature Reserve, which contain more than 70 species of bird, including the rare White Heron and Rowi Kiwi.

    Accommodation in Franz Josef Glacier (NZ)

    As a popular tourist destination, Franz Josef has a great range of high-quality accommodation. There are boutique lodges and self-contained units, luxury hotels, motels and bed & breakfast establishments.

    For budget travellers and campers, there are several backpacker lodges and motor camping holiday parks.

    Transport around Franz Josef Glacier

    Most visitors travel to Franz Josef by road – using private or rental vehicles, or travelling by one of many coach services that stop. The nearest large town is Hokitika, about 90 minutes’ drive to the north along the coast. (Hokitika is about 3.5 hours’ drive from Christchurch).

    To approach Franz Joseph from the south requires traversing the Haast Pass from east of the Alps - named after earlier explorer Julius Haast, who named Franz Josef after the Emperor of Austria in 1865. The journey takes about 3.5 hours from Wanaka.

    It is possible to fly to Franz Josef’s small airfield in a light plane or helicopter – in good weather – from nearby destinations including Queenstown and Wanaka.

    At Franz Josef, there are shuttle services from the settlement to most activities in the area, and a regular service to Fox Glacier, about 20 minutes’ drive to the south.

    Tourist Activities around Franz Josef Glacier

    Franz Josef glacier has advanced and retreated in historical phases. Today, it is in retreat, which has made the terminus of the glacier unstable. As a result, it is necessary to make a small helicopter or ski plane flight onto the glacier in order to participate in glacier walking on any of its ice-fields. Ice fields are separated by ice falls – like frozen waterfalls – which offer the chance to try ice climbing. A selection of guided walking/climbing tours on the glacier is available.

    Scenic helicopter flights from Franz Josef are one of the easiest ways to view some of the Southern Alps’ most majestic scenery, including New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook (3750 metres / 12,300 feet). Sky diving, available at Franz Josef, is another, unforgettable way to see this scenery.

    Kayaking and white-water rafting adventures are available on the Whataroa and Perth Rivers, about 20 minutes’ drive north of Franz Josef, which include some of New Zealand’s most difficult white-water sections.

    Horse trekking, off-road and quad bike (ATV) adventure tours operate regularly.

    The Okarito Lagoon and Waitangiroto wetlands near the coast are home to a great variety of water bird species, including New Zealand’s rare white heron (the Kotuku). Nature tours by boat or kayak are very popular ways to see this “lost world”. A nearby wildlife centre has information displays. It is also a breeding centre for New Zealand’s rarest species of kiwi, the Rowi Kiwi.

    At the day’s end, there is a good range of restaurants and bars at Franz Josef, and also a hot pools complex.

    • Scroll down for Franz Josef accommodation & activity listings



    Franz Josef Glacier