There are over three thousand larger glaciers in New Zealand, most of which are found in the Southern Alps of the South Island. Whether hiking to the glacier terminal face, viewing the glaciers from above by scenic flight or experiencing the thrill of exploring deep glacial caves and crevasses on a guided tour, the glaciers of New Zealand will be one of your most memorable and natural New Zealand adventures.
For visitors wanting to get up close to the glacial action, New Zealand’s largest glacier – the Tasman situated at Mount Cook has a stunning terminal lake that is well worth exploring by boat. Or for the most accessible New Zealand glaciers, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers situated over towards the West Coast are the place to be.
The Tasman Glacier
New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier stretches 27 km in length flanking two of New Zealand’s highest mountains – Mount Tasman and Aoraki/Mount Cook. The stunning icy blue waters form the glacier pool at the terminal face in Lake Tasman, creating a visual feast for visitors to the region.
Viewing the 50 metre high terminal face by boat is a ‘Must Do’ Mount Cook activity, guided boat tours operate daily October through May weather permitting. Icebergs are a common site along with some of the most stunning mountain views seen anywhere in New Zealand.
The Fox Glacier
Located in Westland, the Fox Glacier is approximately 2 hours drive from Hokitika, 4 hours from Queenstown, and 5 1/2 hours drive from Christchurch. At a length of roughly 13 km, the glacier ends roughly 300 metres above sea level surrounded by lush West Coast bush land.
Visitors are able to view the terminal face of the Fox Glacier after a short drive from the Fox Glacier village via the Haast Highway turning off at the Glacier Access Road. From the small carpark on the Glacier Access Road visitors can access the easy 40 minute River Walk, incorporating the shorter River Walk Lookout Track. The 1 hour Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe Valley Walk is the most popular and takes walkers to within 500 metres of the terminal face.
The Franz Josef Glacier
Located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park 20 km north from the Fox Glacier, the Franz Josef Glacier is just a scenic 5 hour drive from Christchurch, 2 ½ hours from Greymouth and just under five hours drive from Queenstown. The glacier extends approximately 12 km, terminating a mere 19 km inland from New Zealand’s rugged western coastline and the Tasman Sea.
Visitors are able to view the terminal face of the glacier for free. Find the Glacier Access Road after heading south from the Franz Josef village on State Highway 6, after crossing the Waiho River bridge take a left, the Franz Josef Glacier carpark is located roughly ten minutes drive down this road.
From the carpark there are two main options available to view the glacier. The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk will take visitors up the river bed towards the terminal face of glacier; barriers are in place as you near the glacier, it is important not to go any closer as the terminal face is quite unstable. More experienced (well equipped) hikers are able to explore the Roberts Point Track. At a distance of 12.3 km, the Roberts Point Track rewards visitors with spectacular views of the glacier from above.
Glacier Hiking, Ice Climbing And Flight Seeing Tours
The only way to actually get out on the glacial ice at the Fox, Franz Josef or Tasman Glaciers is to take a guided glacier tour. Fortunately there are a good selection of companies offering all kinds of tours from heli-hiking and ice climbing to scenic flightseeing.
Franz Josef Glacier Guides
Offering three main options, Franz Josef Glacier Guides provide a 4 hour Glacier Heli-Hike at a cost of $459 per person, a 3 hour guided Glacier Valley Walk at a cost of $79 per person and the extreme Heli Ice Climb at a cost of $575 per person. Booking ahead is highly recommended to avoid disappointment.
The Helicopter Line
Offering Heli-Hiking on both the Franz Josef and Tasman Glaciers, The Helicopter Line’s guided glacier tours start at $429 per person for Franz Josef and $565 per person for the Tasman Glacier. The Heli-Hike tours last approximately 3 hours, which includes helicopter flights on and off the glacier, approximately 2 hours hiking and exploring the spectacular glacial ice formations. Equipment is provided including glacier boots, socks, ice crampons, pants and waterproof jacket.
Fox Glacier Guiding
Choose from The Flying Fox Heli Hike ($450 pp), The Extreme Fox All Day Heli Hike ($699 pp), Fox It Up Heli Ice Climbing ($575 pp), Fox Trail Terminal Face Walk ($69) or the Chancellor Dome day ($750 pp) or overnighter ($999 pp) treks, Fox Glacier Guiding has it all. Departure times, required fitness levels and tour durations do vary so be sure to check the website for up to date details.
Enjoy the Tasman Glacier terminal lake with Glacial Explorers, Aoraki Mount Cook. Departing from the Hermitage Hotel Mount Cook, the tours incorporate a short 30 minute walk, excellent views of the terminal face and even the opportunity to touch and taste the 300-500 year old ice crystals. The tour takes approximately 2 ½ hours and is priced between $150 and $170 per person.
Fox & Franz Heliservices
Offering a range of scenic helicopter flights not only around the Glaciers but all over the South Island’s alpine and coastal regions, Fox & Franz Heliservices are the experts in flightseeing in New Zealand. Scenic flights can include snow landings, all three glaciers and much more. Flightseeing prices range from $170 to $450 per person.
Please note all prices, times and details are provided as a guide only, always check the individual website for up to date information.
Getting To Glacier Country
For visitors to New Zealand’s South Island there are the usual methods of travel available when deciding to visit the glaciers. Visitors can go by bus, take the self-drive option by renting a car or even fly into Hokitika, hiring a car upon arrival on the West Coast.
Common routes are to travel from Christchurch, Queenstown, Hokitikia or Greymouth, often combining the trip with visits to one of more of these places to make the most of what the West Coast has to offer.
If heading to the glaciers from Christchurch, why not make the journey part of the adventure and take the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth. The TranzAlpine coast to coast journey takes approximately 4 ½ hours covering an impressive 200 km of New Zealand’s most pristine landscapes. Upon reaching your destination renting a car in Greymouth is an easy task in order to make your way down to glacier country.
It pays to note that the Tasman Glacier is not located on the western side of the Southern Alps, this will require a separate itinerary to the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.
What To Take On A Glacier Tour
Remember getting out on the ice is going to be cold, and potentially strenuous. A moderate level of fitness will be required and good weather cannot be guaranteed, it is essential to be well prepared. Here are a few things to bring when heading to the glaciers.
- Good walking shoes or boots
- Extra layers of warm clothing
- Long pants or trousers
- A warm waterproof jacket
- Extra socks
- Camera/mobile phone (with extra storage)
- A sense of adventure!
Treat yourself to a glacial experience like no other, enjoy a scenic helicopter flight, glacier landing, or take on the slippery slopes of ancient ice caves all in New Zealand’s magical glacier country.