franz josef glacier new zealand

Things to do in Franz Josef New Zealand

Franz Josef New Zealand also known as Waiau is a small town on the West Coast region of the South Island & sat at the bottom of as massive glacier.

or as Wikipidia puts it

“The Franz Josef is a 12 km long glacier located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.”.

Famous for its choices of scaling their hugely popular glacier Franz Josef provides the ultimate mountaineering experience.

If you love the mountains, love a challenge and love snow, this is the place for you.

Love an overcast, rainy day?  this may also be the place for you.

The West coast of New Zealand generally averages 195 days of rain a year.  believe it or not the best time to visit is Winter despite the cold.

Things to do in Franz Josef New Zealand

For such a small town with such a massive draw you can expect loads of exciting stuff to do here.

It is a bit out of the way and so a long ish drive may be in order but travelling there is half the fun as you meander along thew west coast.

When you are there you will be spoiled for choice with activities the likes of below:

  • Half Day Guided Hike – Easy going Glacial walk
  • Full Day Guided Hike
  • Ice Caves
  • Heli-hike
  • Hot Springs / pools
  • Kayaking on Lake Mapourika
  • Visit the Kiwi Bird at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
  • Scenic Flight

Book Franz Joseph or Fox Glacier

Anything free to do in Franz Josef new Zealand?

  • Hiking and wandering, Peters Pool, Alex Knob
  • Check out Lake Mapourika
  • Tatare Tunnels Walk

How about a diary note from the boss about Franz Josef New Zealand?

To be honest with you this is one of the most disappointing places I visited.  Didn’t expect that did you.

Every time I have been my attempts have been thwarted so the next time I will hike it if I need to.

Let me set the scene for you.

Head to the massive glacier along the long windy coastal road .

Anticipation is slowly building the excitement as the roads get more difficult to navigate and the hills get higher.

The chances are that you will have a shower or two along the way after all it rains 1-2 out of every 3 days of the year. That’s a massive 2- 3 meters of rain a month.

In the end it is the rain that dashes my hopes of getting up the glacier and the cause of my huge disappointment.

Add a little bit of stupidity and there is a short story for me to tell you.

The last time we went there were 3 of us travelling and we couldn’t wait to get up the Glacier for a spot of Heli-Hiking.  It isn’t often you can grab a lift in a chopper and get up a glacier for a hike.

We ended up staying at a pretty decent hostel with an outdoor Jacuzzi in the car park, friendly staff, great rooms and some pretty sweet chill out areas.

It wasn’t long before we headed to the local for a beer or 2 and we got chatting to some of the guides.

These guides are really helpful and super friendly guides I may add.

So we headed straight to the main town to book our long awaited Heli-Hike.

Everything is going well at this point.

The tour guides offered half day hike, full day hike and Heli-hike and by all accounts the ultimate hike you can do is the Heli-hike.  Not only do you get to take a ride in the helicopter but you can reach a much higher point of the glacier.

If you are higher up the glacier much more becomes accessible.  You can experience the ice caves an other natural delights unavailable to the regular hikers.

Obviously the Heli-hike is more expensive followed by the full day hike etc.

And so the wait begins, a bit of food and a quick pint before an early night after a long journey there that day.

Day 1

So the next day begins early as you need to call the tour company to confirm the time of the Heli-hike which is weather dependant.

If the weather conditions aren’t right your helicopter is not going to leave the ground. One advantage you have is you can book open dated tickets and wait.

You guessed it, Yep the helicopter is grounded on day 1…

The day was a bit of a write off and so we repeated day 1 minus the drive and a soak in the Jacuzzi.

Day 2

We call up in anticipation of the amazing heli-hike experience…

The Operator asks us to call back in an hour and see how things are looking…

Its a no-go with the chopper grounded once more.

So we repeat much of yesterdays activities and chat to the local tour guides who still cant recommend the Heli-hike enough.

These guys can tell that we are a little frustrated but add several more beers and prepare for the another early start.

Day 3

Oh come on same again this sux,

By now we are all pretty fed up, lets make up for it by repeating the previous 2 days activity.

That night we get the most amazing offer from a rival tour operator.

A FREE yes FREE full day hike as the tour guides feel really sorry for us waiting like we have been.

What a great offer, only 1 little snag….

The full day hike leaves before you can call to find out if the heli-hike is happening.

The dilemma begins…

We were there to do the Heli-hike, we wanted to do the Heli-hike.

By now though we are drinking a lot of celebratory beers and enjoying the night with our great local friends…

Before we know it the alarm is going off bright and early.

I experience some difficulty in opening my eyes after a heavy night in the pub.

The prospect of Hiking up the mountain less likely and there is still a chance we could take our Heli-hike.


And that is why Franz Josef New Zealand still holds my attention.

It was the most frustrating and disappointing place I have visited across New Zealand but I love it!

If you manage to complete the Heli-hike, please tell me how it was. Was it really worth missing out on the glacier completely I doubt it!

Say you are more sensible and take the full day hike to get up close and personal with the elusive glacier how was that?

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