The Franz Joseph glacier is a very scenic 5-hour drive from Christchurch, around 2 ½ hours from Greymouth, 3 hrs 40 minutes from Wanaka, and just under five hours drive from Queenstown. The nearest airport is in Hokitika, roughly a 2-hour drive away (however Queenstown is the closest international airport) and the nearest train station is in Greymouth (The TranzAlpine) at 2 ½ hours’ drive.
You will find the Glacier Access Road just south of the Franz Josef Village on State Highway 6, cross the Waiho River Bridge and take a hard left, the Franz Josef Glacier carpark is located roughly ten minutes’ drive down this road.
Franz Joseph Glacier Experiences
From the carpark there are two main options available to view the glacier. The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk will bring you towards the terminal face of the glacier, viewing the terminal face is only possible from a safe distance on foot unless you are accompanied by an experienced guide or via helicopter.
More experienced and well-equipped hikers can choose to explore the 12.3 km Roberts Point Track, eventually viewing the glacier from above. Scenic flights and the opportunity to land on the glacier and explore are also extremely popular ways to get the full glacial experience.
The best time of the year to visit Franz Josef is in the New Zealand winter, the glacier will be at its best (and not melting too much), and as a bonus, there will be fewer crowds. Expect temperatures of around 10-21 degrees Celsius in summer and 2-12 degrees in winter.
Choose from a variety of guided tours provided by experienced local guides. These tours are available to book online or in-person when arriving at the Franz Joseph Village. Combine hiking with a helicopter ride, climb or walk among the icy tunnels, seracs, ice caves, and crevasses.
Here is a selection of tour operators offering guided Franz Joseph Glacier tours to get you started.
All guided tours and helicopter flights are weather dependent and best booked in advance in order to avoid disappointment, see your individual tour operator for cancellation information and advice.
What To Take With You
New Zealand’s weather is unpredictable at the best of times, it is important to take the right gear with you when heading into the great outdoors. The conditions in the Waiho Valley are subject to rapid changes in temperature and conditions and the entire river bed can become flooded after heavy rain – here are few things you need to take with you on your glacier adventure.
- Layers of clothing including a warm sweater
- Warm waterproof jacket
- Track pants or comfortable trousers (not jeans they become heavy and cold if wet).
- Sturdy hiking shoes/boots
- Water and snacks
- Insect repellent
For more information on safety recommendations, weather, and alerts when entering New Zealand’s remote National Parks check out the Department of Conservations ‘Know Before You Go’ website.
8 Things To Do In Franz Joseph
Seen the glacier terminal front, explored the crevasses and caves, and enjoyed a scenic helicopter flight? Now it’s time to see what else there is to do in Franz Joseph and make the most of the time you have left in this beautiful little slice of West Coast paradise. Here are our top 8 things to do in Franz Joseph village.
- Kayaking. Explore the scenic delights of the Okarito Lagoon by kayak with Okarito Kayaks.
- Quad Bike Riding. Explore the West Coast rainforest from the back of a 2 seater quad bike with Across Country Quad Bikes guided tours.
- Flightseeing. Taking a sightseeing flight in a plane is a great way to see a bit more of the surrounding area, see the team at Air Safaris for more information.
- Tandem Sky Diving. Take the plunge with one of New Zealand’s most scenic backdrops with the team at Skydive Franz.
- Hot Pools. After your busy day on the glacier enjoy a soak in the relaxing hot pools at Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools.
- Wildlife Fun. Check out the famous West Coast Wildlife Centre, including the kiwi breeding program and behind-the-scenes Kiwi and Tuatara Tours.
- Clay Target Shooting. Try your hand at real clay target shooting with the experts at Franz Josef Clay Target Shooting.
- White Water Rafting. Take to the water and have some fun with Eco Rafting at Franz Joseph (Grade 2 to 5 available).
Whether you choose to drive up from Queenstown or make your way through Arthurs Pass and down from Hokitika or Greymouth, visiting the Franz Joseph glacier will be one of the most memorable experiences in New Zealand’s ruggedly beautiful West Coast.