Couple at Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier | A Complete Guide

Franz Josef Glacier is a must-visit when travelling the West Coast. As one of New Zealand’s most accessible glaciers, we highly recommend jumping at the chance to experience New Zealand glaciation before it’s lost forever. This area of the West Coast is known as Glacier Country, home not only to Franz Josef Glacier but also to Fox Glacier. This World Heritage area is well-known for its diversity; it is home to high mountains, New Zealand glaciers, rainforests and beaches. Spend the night in Franz Josef village or further off the tourist trail in the delightful ‘town’ of Okarito (home to less than 40 people!) and spend your day exploring Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. This is a comprehensive guide on how to do just that.

The stunning Franz Josef Glacier

Your chance to see the terminal face of one of the most famous New Zealand glaciers without climbing a mountain or taking a flight!

Fun facts about Franz Josef Glacier and New Zealand glaciation

  • The New Zealand glaciers count in the 1980s stood at 3,100 glaciers.
  • Franz Josef is part of Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
  • At 12 kilometres (7.4 miles) in length, Franz Josef Glacier is the largest and most accessible of the West Coast glaciers.
  • Franz Josef Glacier is set to lose 38% of its mass by 2100.
  • For Lord of the Rings fans, Mount Gunn in the Franz Josef Glacier area was used as a location for Ered Nimrais.
  • The terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier is less than 300 metres above sea level. It is one of only three that are this close to the coastline.
Lake Matheson reflections among New Zealand glaciation

Lake Matheson reflections never disappoint.

Best walks in Franz Josef

Lake Matheson/Te Ara Kairaumati walk

This beautiful 2.6km loop track offers up the best outlooks of Lake Matheson and its incredible mirror views of the Southern Alps. We take you on this walk on our World Heritage, Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic tours.

Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere walk

This is one of the most popular walks in the area. The 5.4km return track weaves through forest and along a riverbed path. Before you reach the impressive terminal face you will pass the beautiful Trident Falls. Continue on to the terminal face to gaze up in awe at the powerful spectacle before you.

Callery Gorge Walk

Another option of similar length is the 5.2km return track known as Callery Gorge Walk. Situated behind the Franz Josef township, the track climbs to a high terrace before moving through the rainforest to the Callery River. The views of Callery Gorge are the real highlight of the walk.

Canavans Knob Walk

Another option for a superb view of the glacier is Canavans Knob Walk. Choose between the 3.2km route or the 6.3km one. Walk along the river bank and up through the rainforest until you reach a granite outcrop. Here you’ll soak up views of the sea, the Waiho River, the Southern Alps and, of course, the glacier itself – don’t forget your camera!

The falls at one of the most famous New Zealand glaciers - Franz Josef

This walk to the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in nature.

Things to do in Franz Josef

Go heli-hiking

Heli-hiking is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is without a doubt one of the best ways to really see and experience Franz Josef Glacier in all its majesty. Be whisked away by a helicopter and land on the glacier itself to further explore the area on foot! You’ll see jagged crevasses and startling blue ice tunnels as you roam the frozen landscape, with your experienced guide at your side every step of the way. If you don’t feel like exploring the glacier on foot, you can opt for a scenic flight instead.

Glacier Hot Pools

For a more relaxing way to experience Glacier Country or for a little luxury post-hike, there’s the incredible glacier hot pools. The complex boasts three generous pools located in the heart of the rainforest; the perfect spot to relax and reflect on your surroundings. There is also an option to rent a private pool if you feel like taking time out from the crowds. The facilities also have a luxurious spa and massage facility for the ultimate in decadent rejuvenation in the mountains.

Visiting Franz Josef Glacier with New Zealand Trails

On our World Heritage Walking Tour you will spend your fourth day in Glacier Country. Take in the picture-perfect views of Lake Matheson and Franz Josef Glacier’s terminal face as you hike along the Lake Matheson track. On day 10 of the Masterpiece, you’ll spend the morning with a picturesque paddle on Okarito Lagoon, drinking in the views and discovering the birdlife. You’ll follow this up with a hike near Franz Josef Glacier as it descends the Southern Alps into temperate rainforest. On our Kiwi Classic, we’ll also hike to the terminal face.

If you want to find out more about the incredible 5-14 day hiking tours we run in New Zealand, you can request a free copy of our brochure here.