The natural wonders of Franz Josef are located in the stunning backdrop of the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand’s glacier country, where icy blue water and snow capped alps meet surrounding rain forest scenery. Whether you’re a nature lover or looking for more adventurous thrills, make the most of the best things to do in Franz Josef and prepare to be inspired by the natural beauty of the area.
Undoubtedly, your first port of call is to visit the glacier which is a short distance from the town and easily accessible for moderate to advanced walkers. Twelve kilometers (7.4 miles) long, it’s named after Franz Joseph, an explorer from Austria in 1865, and are the fastest moving glaciers on earth. A short walk to the glacier’s viewing point will take you through valleys, forests and past rivers with waterfalls.
You can choose whether to walk independently, or, to make the most of your explorations, guides can be hired to take you on longer hikes where you’ll get to discover tunnels, ice caves and rock crevasses. To top it off, ride in a helicopter directly over the glacier where you later land on the snow and see the melting contours of ice close up.
Franz Josef Glacier Helicopter Flight with Snow Landing
Address: Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
If you haven’t got a great deal of time on your visit to Franz Josef, a short but steep climb will take you to Sentinel Rock, a block of schist in the shape of a teardrop which was originally formed to withstand the consistent pressure of the glacier. This well signposted, relatively quick hike will take you along the forest bush and ice-covered rocks for a breath-taking view of the glacier valley and Waito River with its surrounding rata and kamahi trees. Once at the viewpoint, photographs on the information panels show the dramatic changes of the glacier’s retreat over the last 100 years.
Franz Josef Helicopter Flight and Glacier Hike
Duration: 3 hours 15 minutes
For more experienced walkers, take an 8 hour return hike to the Alex Knob summit where you will pass a range of vegetation, from lowland forestry and sub-alpine scrub to meadows and herb fields. The summit is named after Alexander Graham, a famous mountain guide and this journey will also take you passed Louisa’s Peak, named after his wife. Follow the glacial moraine, heading towards Lake Wombat, and the track will take you to the top. Here, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views of the Franz Josef Glacier, the Main Divide and Tasman Sea.
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
Duration: 3 hours
No matter what the weather, the West Coast Wildlife Center is a perfect solution for spending a few hours in the company of the rarest Rowi kiwi. Where else can you hear and watch these adorable birds playing in the natural bush close up? Set against the backdrop of Franz Josef Glacier, this unique conservation and wildlife center provides an insight to these endangered birds using interactive screens and opportunities to learn close up. You can also visit the Glacier area, the Wild West Coast Storytelling Hut and if you purchase a VIP pass, you can see the incubation and hatching area too!
Skip the Line: Franz Josef Wildlife Center Ticket with Optional Backstage Pass
Duration: 1 to 2 hours
For the more adventurous traveler, go tandem skydiving and capture the beauty of the snow-capped mountains from above. If jumping out of a plane isn’t for you, no problem, you can still see the scenic landscape from the comfort of a helicopter or fixed wing instead and there are plenty of tour operators which offer different priced packages. Other activities such as horse treks, quad biking and off-road buggies will take you through rocky river beds, grassy fields, glacial pathways and steep inclines which make for a great alternative to experience the area on your holiday.
Franz Josef 2-Hour ATV Quad Bike Tour
Duration: 2 hours
6. Hukawai Glacier Center
If weather and time are against you then a visit to the Hukawai Glacier Center is a must to do on your trip to Franz Joseph. With 6 different ice walls to climb, all with varying degrees of difficulty, a virtual ice cave, crevasse and ice staircase, there’s plenty to keep you busy! When you need to take a break, watch other climbers from the cafe or pass through the rain forest into the glacier face and learn about local Maori history as you go along.
Hukawai Glacier Center
Address: Franz Joseph
Website: Hukawai Glacier Center
7. Rejuvenate in the Glacier Hot Pools
When you’ve had enough of roaming the wilderness, imagine relaxing in hot pools amongst the native bush and sounds of birdlife. The Glacier Hot Pools are fed by the waters of Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere and offer three pools. They’re suitable for all ages and if you want a more romantic setting, there’s also opportunities to hire private pools, or really treat yourself to an in depth spa and massage.
Glacier Hot Pools
Address: Cron Street, Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
Website: Glacier Hot Pools
In a love for nature plus adrenaline rush combined activity, Adrenaline Hunter takes you to another adventure that explores the point where Franz Josef Glacier’s ice melts and feed the river. Glacier Valley hike in Waiho River is an excursion not to miss. It allows you to appreciate the landscape transition, learn about how these glaciers came to be, and experience local culture such as knowing about the legend of Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere. While all of these are already a reward, it’s only a part of the hiking journey towards reaching the viewpoint where you’ll witness stunning views of the glacier. The tour is inclusive of waterproof clothes, hiking boots, as well as entrance to the glacier and hot pools so everything else not mentioned such as bottled water and snacks, do bring along with you for a more worthwhile trip. We bet you’ll be taking time marveling over such natural wonders so don’t forget to bring your cameras too.
Glacier Valley hike in the Waiho River
Duration: 2.5 hours
Price: 43 USD
Lake Mapourika, the largest, kettle lake in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, is enclosed between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea and was formed 14,000 years ago! It’s also where you can enjoy some of the more serene activities of bird watching and fishing. Spend your time catching huge salmon or even bigger trout which you can later cook up around the campfire.
Water sports are popular activities in this area so take the chance to go kayaking, paddle boarding or canoeing but if your preference is for a more laid back approach, hop on one of the boat cruises to experience the panoramic splendor of the lake, the surrounding Kahikatea Rain Forest and natural habitat of bird-life.
Lake Mapourika Scenic Cruise from Franz Josef
Duration: 2 hours
Be entertained at Franz Josef
Franz Josef village has much on offer that caters for all kinds of budgets and travelers: log cabins, motels, guest houses and hotels offer unique accommodation choices where you can unwind after all your explorations. In addition to shopping opportunities, there’s also a variety of great restaurants, contemporary eateries and even a brewery to keep you entertained and fed. Busy times to visit are during tourist season, between December and February, but you’ll still find everything open during the rest of the year so you’ll always get the chance to experience the best things to do in Franz Josef.
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