Discovering the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand: Our Comprehensive Guide

Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

The Franz Josef Glacier, located in New Zealand’s South Island, is a stunning natural wonder that attracts visitors from all over the world.

With its towering ice formations and breathtaking views, it’s no wonder that so many people want to see this glacier up close.

Fortunately, there are several ways to experience the Franz Josef Glacier, from guided tours to self-guided hikes.

What to Expect

guided tours Franz Josef Glacier

For those who want to explore the glacier on their own, there are several hiking trails that lead to stunning viewpoints of the glacier.

The most popular trail is the Franz Josef Glacier Walk, which is an easy hike that takes about 1.5-2 hours round trip.

This trail offers stunning views of the glacier and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Visitors can also take a helicopter tour of the glacier, which provides a unique perspective of the ice formations and surrounding landscape.

No matter how you choose to experience the Franz Josef Glacier, it’s important to remember that this is a natural wonder that should be treated with respect. Visitors should always follow the park’s rules and regulations, stay on designated trails, and avoid touching or climbing on the glacier itself.

With a little bit of planning and preparation, anyone can have a memorable and safe experience exploring this incredible glacier.

Getting to Franz Josef Glacier

getting to Franz Josef Glacier

Transportation to Franz Josef

There are several transportation options available to get to Franz Josef Glacier. The most popular way to get there is by rental car or campervan.

The town of Franz Josef is located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, approximately 350 kilometers from Queenstown. The journey passes through Wanaka, skirts the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, and along the West Coast through the Haast Pass and Fox Glacier.

If you don’t have access to a rental car or campervan, there are also buses running from both Greymouth and Wanaka to Franz Josef town.

From Wanaka (or Queenstown), you can catch the Intercity bus at 10:10 am daily and arrive at 4 pm. This bus service costs $43 NZD. From Greymouth, you can catch the intercity bus at 1:30 pm daily and arrive at 5 pm.

Franz Josef Village

Franz Josef village is a small town that serves as a base for visitors to the glacier.

There are several accommodation options available in the village, including hotels, motels, and backpackers. There are also several restaurants, cafes, and shops in the village.

If you are driving to Franz Josef, there is a parking lot located at the entrance to the glacier access road. The parking lot can get busy during peak season, so it’s best to arrive early to secure a spot. If you are taking the bus, the drop-off point is located in the center of the village, within walking distance to most accommodations and amenities.

Overall, getting to Franz Josef Glacier is relatively easy and straightforward. Whether you choose to drive, take the bus, or rent a campervan, there are several transportation options available to suit your needs.

Visiting Franz Josef Glacier

When planning a trip to New Zealand, visiting the Franz Josef Glacier is a must-do activity.

visiting Franz Josef Glacier NZ

This glacier is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and it is famous for its stunning ice formations and the beautiful hikes that can be done in the area. In this section, we will explore the different ways to visit the Franz Josef Glacier.

Guided Tours

One of the most convenient ways to visit the Franz Josef Glacier is by taking a guided tour.

These tours are led by experienced glacier guides who will take visitors on a hike through the valley floor and up to the glacier. The guided tours are a great way to learn about the glacier and its surroundings, and they are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Hiking on the Glacier

For those who are looking for a more adventurous experience, hiking on the glacier is an option.

Visitors can take a guided tour that includes hiking on the glacier with crampons, which are special spikes that are attached to the boots to provide traction on the slippery ice. Visitors can explore the crevasses and ice caves and enjoy the stunning views from the top of the glacier.


Heli-hiking is a fast and convenient way to get to the top of the glacier.

Visitors take a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier and then go on a guided hike with a glacier guide. This is a great option for those who want to see the glacier but do not have a lot of time.

Helicopter Tours

For those who want to enjoy the stunning views of the glacier without going on a hike, a helicopter tour is a great option.

Visitors can take a helicopter ride over the glacier and enjoy the stunning views of the ice formations and the surrounding mountains. Some helicopter tours also include a snow landing, where visitors can step out of the helicopter and enjoy the snow.

helicopter tours Franz Josef Glacier

When visiting the Franz Josef Glacier, it is important to keep safety in mind. Visitors should always follow the instructions of the guides and stay on the designated paths.

It is also important to dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. The glacier guides will provide all the necessary equipment for the guided tours and hikes.

The Franz Josef Glacier is a popular tourist destination, and it can get crowded during the summer months. Visitors should plan ahead and book their tours in advance to avoid disappointment.

The car park near the glacier walk is equipped with toilets and there is a nearby village, Franz Josef township, where visitors can find accommodation and restaurants. The area is home to a variety of fauna and flora, so visitors should keep an eye out for the native wildlife while exploring the glacier.

Weather and Climate at Franz Josef Glacier

weather Franz Josef Glacier

Temperatures and Weather Patterns

Franz Josef Glacier is located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand and is surrounded by a rainforest. The area experiences a temperate climate, with rainfall throughout the year.

The average annual temperature is around 11.5 degrees Celsius. During the summer months of December to February, temperatures can reach highs of around 20 degrees Celsius, while in winter, temperatures can drop to below freezing.

The weather patterns at Franz Josef Glacier can be unpredictable, with sudden changes in temperature and weather conditions.

Visitors are advised to check the weather forecast before attempting any hikes or activities in the area. The weather can also affect the visibility of the glacier, so it’s important to plan accordingly.

Climate Change and the Glacier

The Franz Josef Glacier has been advancing and retreating for centuries, but in recent years, it has been rapidly retreating due to climate change.

The glacier is currently around 12 kilometers long and has retreated significantly in the past few decades. The retreat of the glacier has been attributed to rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.

The neve, or accumulation zone, of the glacier is located at an altitude of around 3,000 meters, while the terminus of the glacier is at an altitude of around 260 meters.

The glacier is fed by snow and ice from the surrounding mountains, which is compressed into ice over time. The melting of the glacier can have significant impacts on the surrounding ecosystems and water supply.

Visitors to Franz Josef Glacier can learn more about the impacts of climate change on the glacier and the surrounding environment through guided tours and educational exhibits. It’s important to remember that the glacier is a fragile ecosystem and should be treated with respect and care.

Other Activities near Franz Josef Glacier

For those who want to explore more of the area around Franz Josef Glacier, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy.

From hiking and kayaking to skydiving and hot pools, there is something for everyone.

Hikes and Walks

There are several other hikes and walks in the area that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The Fox Glacier is a popular destination for hikers, with several trails of varying difficulty.

hiking Franz Josef Glacier

The Sentinel Rock Walk is an easy walk that offers panoramic views of the glacier, while the Fox Glacier Valley Walk takes you through ancient rainforest to the glacier terminal face. For more advanced hikers, the Copland Track and Arthur’s Pass National Park offer alpine glaciers and blue ice.

Kayaking and River Tours

Kayaking on Lake Matheson or the nearby Okarito Lagoon is a great way to explore the area’s waterways. Guided river tours are also available, taking visitors through the stunning Callery Gorge.


For the ultimate adrenaline rush, visitors can try skydiving over the glaciers and mountains. Queenstown and Wanaka are popular destinations for skydiving in the area.

Hot Pools

After a day of exploring, relax in one of the area’s hot pools. The Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef Township offer a range of pools and spa treatments, while the Hokitika Hot Pools are a little further afield but offer a secluded and peaceful setting.

Overall, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy in the area around Franz Josef Glacier. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing soak in a hot pool or an adrenaline-fueled skydive, there is something for everyone.


In conclusion, there are many ways to experience the stunning Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. Visitors can take a scenic helicopter flight for a bird’s eye view of the glacier and surrounding landscape, or embark on a heli-hiking tour for a more immersive experience.

For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, the Franz Josef Glacier walk is an easy hike and a must-do on any South Island itinerary. The trail is around 4 km return and offers breathtaking views of the glacier and its milky-colored braided rivers.

One of the best times to see the Franz Josef Glacier is at sunset when the warm light illuminates the ice and creates a stunning contrast against the darkening sky. Visitors can also learn about the glacier’s rich history and cultural significance to the local Māori people, who call it Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere.

Overall, the Franz Josef Glacier is a natural wonder that should not be missed when visiting New Zealand’s South Island. With a range of activities and experiences available, there is something for everyone to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of this magnificent glacier.

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