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Travel Guide

Glacier country guide: Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

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In this Article

Attractions, things to do, places to go

Glacier Country, New Zealand is 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.

Peoples feet at Fox Glaciers, West Coast, New Zealand
Peoples feet at Fox Glaciers

ADVENTURE IN GLACIER COUNTRY, NZ – KEY HIGHLIGHTS

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.

WILDERNESS HIGHLIGHTS

  • 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
White heron, New Zealand
White heron, New Zealand
Stunning panoramic view from Okarito lookout to the native bush countryside, West Coast, New Zealand
Stunning panoramic view from Okarito lookout to the native bush countryside

FAMILY & KIDS HIGHLIGHTS IN GLACIER COUNTRY, NZ

  • 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, WEST COAST, NZ – KEY FACTS

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.

Glacier Country, Franz Josef walk, South Island, West Coast, New Zealand
Glacier Country, Franz Josef walk
Franz Josef, New Zealand. A group of tourists hiking on Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef

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.

Highlights

  • 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

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.
Lake Mapourika West Coast New Zealand at twilice.
Lake Mapourika

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GLACIER COUNTRY, NEW ZEALAND

Franz Josef, New Zealand - A group of tourists hiking on Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TWO GLACIERS, FOX AND FRANZ JOSEF?

Fox Glacier has a gradual incline and Franz Josef is steeper. The most dramatic formations occur on a glacier when it moves downwards on a steep gradient.The surface of Franz Josef Glacier is full of crevasses and ice caves with its popular deep blue window effect.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VIEW A GLACIER IN NEW ZEALAND?

The best time is now. The glaciers are melting.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT. GLACIER COUNTRY, NZ?

Year round is a great time to visit Glacier Country, NZ. Winter has crisp cool still weather, snowfall and lack of crowds. Winter time is fun, it’s when the weather comes out to play with brisk chill air sharpening the senses. The peak season is summer with its extensive daylight hours.

Sunshine hours extend from early morning 5.30 am to 10.00 pm. The temperature range, in summer is 12c to 25c creating the perfect climate for outdoor activities.

Franz Josef Glacier crampons hike through the blue glacier ice - New Zealand, South Island, NZ
Franz Josef Glacier crampons hike through the blue glacier ice

WHAT IS THE DISTANCE BETWEEN FRANZ JOSEF AND FOX TOWNS

The distance is approximately 25km, or 35 minutes between Franz Josef and Fox towns on the West Coast, NZ

25 km, Approximately 35 minutes

WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT NEW ZEALAND MOUNTAINS BEFORE VISITING?

Safety is the key message about walking and hiking in New Zealand.

  • 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.

GETTING AROUND

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.

Fox Glacier main street, New Zealand @Mike Dickison
Fox Glacier main street, New Zealand @Mike Dickison

Grocery shops/supermarkets

  • 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

Glacier Shuttles

Bus transport around New Zealand

Intercity Coachlines

Getting Here

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.

@GlacierShuttles
@GlacierShuttles

Travel pack information

BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDES.

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