An Honest Review of Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand – Is it really worth a visit?
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are the two largest glaciers in New Zealand. Those neighbouring ice formations are located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The park stretches from the top of the Southern Alps in the east to the Tasman Sea in the west, covering over 1270 km2. Cascading from the Mount Tasmin and Cook, both glaciers are highly visited by tourists during their road trip itinerary around South Island. We both were excited to see the glacier for the first time. However, the reality was slightly disappointing. This Franz Josef Glacier review will help you decide if you should extend your campervan roadtrip to the west coast of South New Zealand.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park
This park is located on the West Coast of South Island. It is renowned for dramatic glaciers, dense rainforest, coastal lagoons, ice-blue rivers and beautiful lakes. After a week of road trip around the South Island, we were amazed by the natural beauty that we had seen so far. That’s why, we were slightly surprised to see the views changing so much as we approached the West coast. The road was long and straight. Unfortunately, there is no views along the Highway 6, the only road connecting Haast and Hokitika.
GOOD TO KNOW
This highway in connected on both sides by bridges. Due to heavy rain, it happens that both of those bridges get flooded (or damaged) and the way in or out is blocked. In those circumstances, there is no possibility to enter or leave Westland Tai Poutini National Park! This means that you need to check actively the weather forecasts before going to the west coast of South New Zealand.
There are two beautiful stops at the beginning of the road, just past Haast : Ship Creek Beach and Knights Point Lookout. The lovely wooden path along the beach and into the rainforest at Ship Creek Beach is worth an hour long stop. After this point is a 1.5 H drive with no views until the Franz Josef Glacier township.
Franz Josef Glacier Review
Franz Josef Glacier is one of the steepest and biggest glaciers in New Zealand. The glacier is located just a few km from the heart of Franz Josef township which offers a range of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. The town is lovely, however it is a so called ‘tourist trap’. Everything is overpriced and the ‘biggest’ attraction is happy hour at the local bar.
Glacier Hot Pools
If you dream of an relaxing time in a tranquil place, head over to Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef Glacier Township. Hot pools are a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate in nature after your glacier adventure. But once again, the activity can be quite pricey.
Visiting the Glacier
There are 2 ways you can visit the glacier: by joining an organized tour, or by setting for an hour long easy hike on your own.
If you are passionate and eager to learn about the glacier’s history and facts you can choose the tour. However the group walks exactly the same trail as everyone else and doesn’t have any special access. As it costs about 82 NZD (45 EUR) per person….unless you are a glacier enthusiast, save your money.
Visiting the glacier by yourself is very easy. It’s a 4km drive from the township to the parking lot- the entrance to the trail. From here you will have an easy, 1h hike to the glacier’s viewpoint. The path leads through the beautiful Waiho Valley, a dry river bed. The views around are really impressive. Maybe even more than the glacier itself 😒
It’s unfortunately the fault of humanity and global warming that Franz Josef Glacier melted significantly in the past years. Only 10 years ago it was reaching at least 30m closer to the viewpoint than at the moment. What we can see from the bottom is dirty ice far in the distance.
↬ Note : The only way to get close to the glacier is with a heli tour.
Don’t understand us wrong. We are both extremely happy that we’ve seen and visited the glacier. We are just sad to see it in this state. And think that you deserve to know what you will find.
The Heli Flight
We think that there are 2 options to truly experience the beauty of the glacier. A scenic heli flight taking you above the glacier and stopping for a brief time on an ice block will make this trip unforgettable. The price for a 20 min flight start at 280 NZD (150 EUR) per person.
↬ Note : This is what we planned to do. We booked a heli flight for the morning of our visit. However for unknown reasons, the evening(!) before the flight we were bumped to an afternoon flight, than then got cancelled due to the weather. That’s the reason we do not recommend booking via Bookme.co.nz or with The Helicopter Line. We were treated very poorly and regret booking with them 😔
Glacier Heli Hike
This without a doubt this will be an experience of the life time. A helicopter flight over the glacier followed by a 2h hike through the most spectacular glacier features. Unfortunately this is activity is for those who travel on a bigger budget as the prices for 3h escapade start at 485 NZD (275 EUR) per person.
Franz Josef Glacier is located on the West Coast of South Island, 4h (300 km) drive from Wanaka. The closest city is Haast, 2h (150km) away.
The best way to get there is with a campervan during your road trip itinerary or by a rented car.
Best time to visit
From November to March New Zealand is the most pleasant when it comes to the weather and temperatures.
If you decide to book a helicopter tour, always choose the morning flights. As the weather can change quickly and your flight is cancelled, you will be automatically put onto the next one available- maybe even the same afternoon.
Check the weather few days before and on the day of your tour. To hike to the view pint of Franz Josef Glacier you have to walk through Waiho Valley. It’s river levels and water channels can change rapidly, particularly during and after heavy rain. The entire river bed can become completely covered with flood water. Do not attempt to cross enlarged or rising streams.
Franz Josef Glacier is located a fair distance from other towns, it’s natural that you will have to spend a night here. There are hotels and campground within the small township. Expect the prices to be higher than any other parts of New Zealand.
There aren’t any free or low cost\DOC campsites around Franz Josef Glacier. The cheapest campsites within the town start at 25 NZD for unpowered site.
Where to next?
If you are following the New Zealand South Island itinerary, your next stop will be impressive Hokitika Gorge, 2h away. We hope this review of Franz Josef Glacier and the west coast of New Zealand will help you decide if you want to add to you voyage!