Tours, Hikes, Activities and Places to Visit in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, inky black lakes reflecting the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, and lush primeval forests: the Westland Tai Poutini National Park offers the most diverse scenery in the South Island. Mostly known for the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier, there’s much more to discover between the reflective lakes, hikes to hot pools and skydives over the glaciers. Start making your bucket list with these best things to do in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
Before we get started, be sure to bookmark The Complete Travel Guide to Franz Josef to plan your trip to Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
1. Walk to the Franz Josef Glacier Terminal Face
See the icon of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the free 1h30min Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk. The easy walking trail is suitable for children, taking you along the rocky valley of the Franz Josef Glacier with waterfalls and other glacial features to enjoy. Get more out of it by joining a guided experience with Glacier Valley Eco Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Franz Josef Glacier Guides (on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday).
Location: End of Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2.5 miles) from Franz Josef Glacier township and river bridge.
2. Heli-Hike onto the Franz Josef Glacier
Certainly one of the best things to do in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park is exploring the Franz Josef Glacier on a heli-hike. Your guides will kit you out with crampons, walking poles, beanies, etc. for a walk on a giant river of ice to explore ice caves, awesome crevasses and more. Heli-hikes are available with Franz Josef Glacier Guides and The Helicopter Line (on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday).
Location: Tours depart from Main South Road, Franz Josef.
3. Heli-Hike onto the Fox Glacier
Franz Josef’s less-visited neighbour is well worth considering for a heli-hike. Fox Glacier sits just 20 minutes down the road from Franz Josef with just one heli-hiking company, Fox Glacier Guiding. With that, the glacier often benefits from fewer helicopter traffic and more of a feeling of serenity. It’s just you, your small group, the mountains and the ice caves! Read reviews or book your heli-hike on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook.
Location: 44 Main Road, Fox Glacier.
4. Treat Yourself to a Scenic Flight and Helicopter Landing on the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
Want to see them both? An unforgettable option is taking a scenic helicopter flight over both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Helicopter tours allow you to get a close view of these ice giants from different angles before landing in the snow at the top of one of the glaciers. Tours are available with HeliServices.NZ Fox & Franz (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), The Helicopter Line (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Glacier Helicopters (on Viator and Tripadvisor). See how these flights compare to the 10 Best Helicopter Tours in New Zealand.
Location: HeliServices.NZ Fox & Franz – 29 Main Road, Franz Josef, The Helicopter Line and Glacier Helicopters – Main South Road, Franz Josef.
5. Cruise or Kayak on Lake Mapourika
One of the breathtaking natural features left in the Franz Josef Glacier’s path is Lake Mapourika. Join Franz Josef Wilderness Tours for either a cruise (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or kayak tour (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) to see the lake’s vivid reflections of the surrounding Jurrasic-like rainforest and mountains. Check out how the kayak experience compares to others in the 10 Best Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand.
Location: 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef.
6. Admire the Reflections at Lake Matheson
More stunning reflections can be found on this must-do walk near the Fox Glacier. The Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk takes a mere 1h30mins to complete around the dark lake. The tannins in the lake make reflections like nothing else! Spend some time at each of the viewpoints to enjoy them. For more walks like this, check out the 20 Best Short Walks on the South Island or the 9 Best Walks in Fox Glacier.
Location: Signposted from Cook Flat Road, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from Fox Glacier township.
7. Tackle the Overnight Hike to Hot Pools on the Copland Track
For those who are prepared to do a serious hike with a soothing reward, take on the Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut. The seven-hour one-way hike takes you through the glorious scenery of rivers, valleys, forest and mountains. From the Welcome Flat Hut, it’s a short walk to the Welcome Flat natural hot pools. See more hikes like this in The Top 50 South Island Walks.
Location: Signposted off State Highway 6, approximately 26km (16 miles) south of Fox Glacier.
8. Skydive Over the Glaciers of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park
A more extreme way to soak up the scenery of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park is by skydiving over it! Join Skydive Franz Josef for an epic freefall of up to 20,000ft along with scenery of the Franz Josef Glacier, Aoraki Mt Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand) and the Waiho River braiding all the way to the Tasman Sea. Find out more on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or the 11 Best Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.
Location: 69 Cron Street, Franz Josef.
9. See Rare Wildlife Like the Kiwi and White Heron
While glaciers tend to steal all of the limelight in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the birdlife is pretty incredible too. Nearby to Franz Josef Glacier is the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary where you can explore and learn about their natural habitat with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). For a guaranteed viewing of a kiwi bird, however, it’s best to head to the West Coast Wildlife Centre (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Alternatively, head to the only habitat of the super rare white heron, as well as many other species, at the Okarito Lagoon.
Location: Franz Josef Wilderness Tours – 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef, West Coast Wildlife Centre – Corner of Cron and Cowan Street, Franz Josef, Okarito Lagoon – The Strand, Okarito, approximately 28km (17.4 miles) from Franz Josef township.
10. Hike the Roberts Point Track
Our final of the best things to do in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park is the full-day hike on the Roberts Point Track. Follow a trail over ice-carved rock on this steep climb to unrivalled views of the Franz Josef Glacier.
Location: Alex Knob/Lake Wombat car park, Glacier Access Road, approximately 2km (1.2 miles) from Franz Josef Glacier township and river bridge.
More Things to Do in Westland Tai Poutini National Park
That’s it for this list of things to do and places to visit in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park but not for our Westland guides. Discover more about Westland and the glaciers in the following articles: