One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River.
The glacier is easily accessible on a day tour from Franz Josef village and popular activities include a glacier valley walk, a kayaking excursion around Lake Mapourika, or an ATV ride along the West Coast, often combined with a visit to the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary or the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools. For the most incredible views, soar over the Southern Alps on a helicopter flight or touchdown to enjoy heli-hiking along the glacier.
Things to Know Before You Go
It can get chilly on the mountaintops even in summer, so bring a jacket, as well as sunscreen, suitable hiking boots, and plenty of water.
The glacial landscapes are constantly changing and icefalls and flash floods are common, so it’s best to visit with a guide.
Some tours and scenic flights over the Franz Josef glacier are wheelchair accessible—check with your tour operator in advance.
How to Get There
The Franz Josef Glacier is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park in the Southland Region of New Zealand’s South Island. The main access point is the Franz Josef Glacier Village, around two hours south of Greymouth, and 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the terminal face of the glacier.
When to Get There
The glacier is accessible all year round, but the high season runs from November to March, when the milder temperatures are ideal for hiking and helicopter tours. Although much colder (average temperatures are 41–57°F/5–15°C), the weather in winter is less changeable, making for some even more impressive scenery, plus you’ll typically find far fewer crowds.
The Natural Wonders of Te Wahipounamu
The Franz Josef glacier is part of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Te Wahipounamu, which encompasses the neighboring Fox Glacier, and the national parks of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, and Westland Tai Poutini. The West Coast glaciers are just a small part of the dramatic landscapes that await—adventurers can enjoy scenic flights over glacier country, take heli hikes in the mountains, explore underground ice caves, or hike the summit of Mt. Cook.