What to do and best things to see
While there are rivers of ice within easy reach of Franz Josef and Fox townships the area’s rivers, mirror lakes, seas and lagoons are the icing on the cake. An untamed natural landscape is a bucket list destination.
The two towns of Franz Josef and Fox are the accommodation and tour operator heart of the region with cafes, restaurants and places to stay. Check out What’s so great about Okarito and Whataroa for inspiration what to do and see.
The adventure hub of mountains, white water rivers, remote backcountry and sheer cliffs is the backdrop for visitors. Visitors can skydive, quad bike through braided glacial fed rivers, heli-tramp down mountain passes or heli-raft on the through gorges.
The townships offer clay target shooting, wilderness tours where 4WD take you into seldom seen valleys and scenic flights and air safaris are often a bucket list experience.
- Photographers dream with mirrored reflections of mountains, dense kaihiatakeri forests and flax in the still deep inky waters of Lake Gault and Lake Lake Mapourika
- Lagoons where white herons feed and over species forage
- Helicopter flights over the alps and glaciers
- Trails following the footsteps of gold miners (19th century)
- Wildlife dozing on beaches
- White water rafting through ice carved gorges and pass water sculptured boulders
- Waterfalls to gladden the heart of waterfall fans
FAMILY & KIDS HIGHLIGHTS
- Short forest walks to stunning waterfalls and reflecting pools
- Callery Gorge for the kids to see glacial cobalt blue water lined by moss covered rocks. There are even glowworms in tunnels (Franz Josef town walk)
- Okarito Lagoon loop walk returning on the beach looking out for seals and dolphins
- Kayak on Okarito lagoon and/or Lake Mapourika with or without a guide.
- Summer swimming in Lake Mapourika, surprisingly warm due to the deep inky colour absorbing heat. And the lake does not have glacial fed water.
FRANZ JOSEF & FOX TOWNSHIPS
Villages that have grown on the back of tourism are surrounded by dense forest with the Alps in the background. The major attractions, Franz Josef & Fox glaciers can be accessed on walking tracks, heli-hike tours or viewed on an aerial flight.
TIP: Glacial Walk to Franz Josef
Walking to the glacier will not include views of the glacier itself or will walkers view the characteristic blue tinted canyons and cliffs of ice. The walk is through glacial moraine, large boulders and rocks left behind as the glacier retreats. It is the equivalent of a glacial gravel pit. Although it is completely natural with waterfall flows and melted ice runoff it is not particularly scenic. The walk is suitable for kids as it is a flat, easy walk. The edge of the glacier is approximately 750 metres from the walk’s terminus.
The track is occasionally closed due to rain and rockfall. The safety notices are regularly updated at the beginning of the track.
The track starts in regenerating forest then follows the river bed and glacial moraine. Walkers are instructed to follow markers and cairns and use walking poles when fording streams.
- Massive boulders left by the receding glacier
- The raw mountain environment and the sheer strength of a glacier to cut its way through a valley
Bucket list journeys should include
- Aerial flights or heli-guided glacier tours. It is not always going to be possible to view Franz Josef glacier as it is melting rapidly.
Lake Mapourika, a great place for fishing, birdwatching and kayaking. Early morning or late afternoon is the BEST time to explore the lake. The lake is bordered by a kiwi sanctuary. The lake is well known for its mirrored reflections. It is a popular site for photographers.
LAKE MAPOURIKA HIGHLIGHTS
- Clearwater suspension bridge and walk through ancient native forest including tall Kahikatea and Rimu to the Jetty Viewpoint. The jetty provides a stunning mountain view and on a calm day you will see the magnificent reflections. This part of the track is suitable for wheelchairs.
- Look into the still waters for long finned eels.
LAKE GAULT HIGHLIGHTS
- Alpine views of Aoraki Mt Cook and Mt Tasman
- Historic 8 km Lake Gault track to the lookout point.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TWO GLACIERS
The most dramatic formations occur on a glacier when it moves downwards on a steep gradient. Fox Glacier has a gradual incline and Franz Josef is steeper. The surface of Franz Josef Glacier is full of crevasses and ice caves with its popular deep blue window effect.
BEST TIME TO VIEW A GLACIER
Now as they are melting. Winter time is fun, it’s when the weather comes out to play with brisk chill air sharpening the senses.
BEST TIME OF THE TIME TO VISIT
Wintertime with its crisp cool still weather, snowfall and lack of crowds.
PEAK SEASON IS SUMMER
Sunshine hours extend from early morning 5.30 am to 10.00 pm. The temperature range is 12c to 25c creating the perfect climate for outdoor activities.
WHAT IS THE DISTANCE BETWEEN FRANZ JOSEF AND FOX TOWNS
25 km, Approximately 35 minutes
SAFETY IN THE MOUNTAINS
Know before you go
- Check the current track conditions and weather forecasts at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre and i-SITE before starting your trip.
- Always take warm and waterproof clothing as the weather can change rapidly.
- Carry drinking water, insect repellent and sun protection at all times.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes
- Winter driving conditions, check weather forecast and whether you will require chains on your tyres before departing.
Mobile phone coverage:
There is mobile phone (cell phone) coverage in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier villages for all the major providers. Haast has limited cell phone coverage and is the only spot between Fox and Hawea/Wanaka with cell phone reception.
The coverage is generally centred around the region’s towns with gaps of little or no reception in between.
- Franz Josef village:
Four Square Supermarket, 24 State Highway 6, Franz Josef.
Open 7.45am 7 days a week and closes at 7.30pm in winter, 8pm in spring and autumn and 9pm in summer.
- Fox Glacier village:
Fox Glacier Store, 40 Main Road, Fox Glacier
Open 8.00am–8.00pm 7 days per week.
Bus transport in and around Franz Josef Glacier and Fox township
Bus transport around New Zealand
Driving is the most popular way to get to Glacier Country. By bus or self-driving state highway 6 is amazing. The closest airports are Hokitika, Queenstown and Christchurch.
Travel pack information
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDES.