NZ Franz Josef Glacier inside
Nz air safaris franz josef 3 solo active kopie
Franz Josef Glacier walk
NZ - Franz Josef & Fox
NZ Franz Josef Glacier inside
Nz air safaris franz josef 3 solo active kopie
Franz Josef Glacier walk
NZ - Franz Josef & Fox
The steepest glacier in New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier

Imagine taking a helicopter and landing on a glacier high in the Southern Alps, steeped in the splendour and stillness of snow. Franz Josef Glacier is surrounded by untamed rainforest, is at a height of 3000 metres above sea level and stretches over 12 kilometres. Would you like to leave your footprint through glacial tunnels, along deep crevasses and into hollow ice caves?

Where is Franz Josef Glacier?

Three people standing on a snow covered mountain peak
Be in awe at the natural wonder of Franz Josef Glacier
A group of people doing a glacial walk in a white snow covered mountain
Go on a guided glacial walk for a once-in-a-lifetime experience
© Miles Holden


Franz Joseph Glacier, known to locals as Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere, is on the west coast of the South Island. It was named after the Austrian emperor by geologist Julius von Haast, who was exploring the area in 1865. Located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and high in the Southern Alps, it is 12 kilometres long and 3000 metres above sea level.

Two of the most outstanding features of Franz Josef are that it is the steepest and one of the fastest moving glaciers in New Zealand. It has been captured as moving at speeds of up to four to five metres per day which is incredible. This means that it is an ever-changing landscape of crevasses, tunnels, blue glaciers and ice caves making it the most popular tourist attraction on the west coast.

Conquer the Fox Glacier Heli-hike | New Zealand active holiday
Taking a heli-hike is the ultimate Franz Josef adventure
A view looking from inside out of hole in a glacier
Climb through tunnels and crevasses as you explore this icy wonderland

Franz Josef or Fox Glacier?

Franz Josef Glacier is renowned for its steep drop from the Southern Alps to near sea level while Fox Glacier has a more gradual descent. The steeper rock face of Franz Josef means that there is a more dramatic movement of the ice making it the fastest commercially guided glacier in the world. There are more options for shops and restaurants in Franz Josef and of course, it also boasts amazing hot pools.

Fox Glacier is longer than Franz Josef, is fed by four alpine lakes and its terminal face is five kilometres from the village. It is easily accessible and close to the most photographed Lake Matheson. Both glaciers are incredible natural wonders and we'd recommend visiting both when you are on the west coast.

Conquer the Fox Glacier Heli-Hike | New Zealand active holiday
A guided hike is the safest way to explore Franz Josef and Fox glaciers
© TravelEssence

"I am a huge fan of scenic flights! No matter if it's a flight across Lake Tekapo or Mount Cook, a helicopter flight above Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers or a trip to Cape Reinga - it's always special to see the natural beauty of NZ from a bird's eye view."

Nicole, Travel specialist

Things to do


Embark on a scenic helicopter ride to the glacier and go on a 2-hour guided hike through sculpted ice formations and caves. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience as the landscape is forever changing making no two hikes the same.

Franz Josef Glacier Walk

The glacier is a five-kilometre walk from Franz Josef town. The hike is considered easy and will take an hour to one hour thirty minutes to complete. You'll walk over small foot-bridges across the river and past a few waterfalls. This activity is family-friendly and can be done without a guide. There are several information boards along the way explaining the history and geography of the area.

A man in a red jacket and a woman in a blue jacket hiking along the base of a glacier
The Fox Glacier Walk is an easy family-friendly hike that can be done without a guide
© Miles Holden

Soak in hot pools

Could there be anything more relaxing and indulgent than soaking in a glacier-fed hot pool after a day of hiking? Sitting snug in the heart of town and encompassed by native rainforest are three main pools with temperatures ranging from 36 degrees to 40 degrees Celcius. Spoil yourself with a pampering spa treatment after you've warmed your muscles in the hot pools.

Visit stunning lakes

If there are two lakes you cannot miss while you are in the Frans Josef Glacier area, it is Lake Mapourika and Lake Matheson. Why not enjoy a sunset kayak over Lake Mapourika while soaking up the spectacular views of the Southern Alps and glaciers set against a backdrop of the ancient rainforest? Or you could take a sunrise walk around Lake Matheson observing the beautiful reflections of Mount Cook in its quiet waters.

View of lake at sunset with the mountains and clouds reflecting in the water
Marvel at how the forest, mountain and clouds are perfectly reflected in the water of Lake Matheson
Lake Mapourika: a long jetty leading in to reflective waters
Lake Mapourika: kayak or walk around the lakes edge for beautiful views

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is a 25-minute drive from Franz Josef Glacier town via State Highway 6. Surrounded by lush farmland and fed by four alpine glaciers, perhaps one of its greatest draw-cards is that it is near the exquisite Lake Matheson.

The Fox Glacier Walk is an easy 2.6-kilometres, one-hour return walk that is fun to do with the family. At night you can follow the bush track along the lake's edge and spot glow worms in the dark. Adventurous activities are aplenty at Fox Glacier, with glacier hikes and scenic flights being the most popular.

A woman in a blue shirt in an ice tunnel
Adventure into narrow caves and tunnels for the full glacier experience
A woman sitting in a small hole of a crevasse on a white snow covered glacier
Discover interesting ice formations while hiking on the the glacier
© Miles Holden
Nz air safaris franz josef 3 solo active kopie

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Travel Tips

  • Wear lightweight shorts or pants and pack a waterproof jacket to stay warm
  • For the glacier walk or hike, good hiking boots above the ankle are important
  • Winter is a great time to visit and the temperatures are not as cold as you might expect
  • Book your spot at the hot pools with either single-entry tickets for public pools or a private pool entry
  • For any road trip on the west coast, pack your insect repellent for the sandflies
A group of people hiking on a white snow covered glacier
Join your friends on a glacier hike and have an awesome time together
© TravelEssence
A woman in blue jacket and black trousers sitting in a hole formed by moving ice formations
Take memorable photographs of the amazing natural windows on the ice

How to get there

If you are staying in Franz Josef town it is a seven-minute drive to Franz Josef Glacier. The distance is five kilometres and you can also choose to walk (1 hour 30 minutes) or cycle there.

Driving distance from the nearest towns:

  • Fox Glacier 25 minutes
  • Hokitika 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Greymouth 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Christchurch 5 hours
  • Queenstown 5 hours
A small white plane taxing for take off
Sightseeing by plane is an exhilarating adventure
A pilot sitting in the cockpit of a plane
Enjoy bird's eye views of the glaciers on a helicopter ride

Where to stay?

Make your trip extra special by experiencing a unique stay from our large collection of hand-selected accommodations located in South Island and its surrounds. Your travel specialist will match you with accommodation that suits your wants and needs. A journey where your accommodation is an experience in itself.

A sitting room with a fireplace and amazing view
End your day with a cozy fire in a luxury lodge near Lake Tekapo
Bedroom in a luxury lodge
Rest in comfortable lodge accommodation with personalised service

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Why book with us?

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  • Small-scale accommodations run by friendly local hosts
  • Carefully recommended activities based on your interests
  • A travel tempo and driving distances that match your needs
  • Ingrained sustainability in all facets of your holiday
  • 30 years of experience in travel to New Zealand

Let's design your holiday together

We'll take the time to get to know you to match your fully bespoke holiday with your pace, your interests, and anything you desire. Combined with first-hand, local knowledge, you'll receive a mapped-out itinerary from us - but the process isn't done until you are 100% satisfied. We take care of every detail, so you can focus on relaxing, rejuvenating and reconnecting with yourself and the world around you. Get in touch to get started now.

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At TravelEssence, we specialise in crafting custom-made holidays that take you off the beaten path and create memories to last a lifetime. We believe in connecting with the heart and soul of a place, introducing you to the locals who call it home. Engage in conversations with fascinating individuals who will share their stories, traditions, and way of life, leaving an indelible mark on your journey.