The Must-Dos in Franz Josef: Home to New Zealand’s Most Accessible Glacier
It’s a must-do on the South Island; seeing the Franz Josef Glacier. Franz Josef is one of the most bustling tourism hotspots on the West Coast of the South Island. The small picturesque town is backed with luxuriant rainforest and a magnificent glacier valley leading up to the Franz Josef Glacier. There are many ways to experience this glacier for yourself, as well as discover the magnificent landscape carved by the glacier over thousands of years. Find out what you could be getting up to with this list of the best things to do in Franz Josef.
1. Do a Free Walk to the Franz Josef Glacier Terminal Face…
Although Franz Josef is famous for its heli-hikes (which we will get onto later), did you know there’s a free way to see the Franz Josef Glacier? In fact, there are a few, all of which are walks, with the most popular being the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. Wander through the breathtaking valley left behind by the Franz Josef Glacier to a viewpoint of the Franz Josef terminal face. The 1h30mins return walk also features the beautiful Trident Falls. Check out more freebies like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Location: Glacier Access Road, 5km (3 miles) from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge.
2. … Or a Guided Walk of the Glacier Valley
Although walking in the Franz Josef Glacier Valley is one of the free things to do in Franz Josef, you can enrich your experience further by taking a three-hour guided hike through this immersive landscape with Glacier Valley Eco Tours. Learn all about how the valley was formed, about the local flora and fauna, as well as Maori legends and history of the area. Note this tour does not take you onto the glacier. Find out more about the tour, read reviews and/or book your tickets on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 29 The Strand, Okarito, approximately 27km (17 miles) from Franz Josef township (pick-ups are available).
3. Heli-Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier
Explore the ice giant itself on a glacier heli-hiking experience. Fly onto the Franz Josef Glacier and tie up your provided crampons in order for your guide to take you on a journey in and around the glacier. No two tours are the same in this ever-changing environment complete with ice caves and outstanding mountainous views on all sides. Book your heli-hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides and The Helicopter Line on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday.
Location: Tours depart from The Helicopter Line office on Main Street, Franz Josef township.
4. See Rare Birds and a Stunning Wetland Environment at the Okarito Lagoon
One of the most important eco-systems in New Zealand, the Okarito Lagoon is a nature lover’s dream. See rare wildlife like the white heron and royal spoonbill on the shores of the Okarito Lagoon and along the Okarito walking trails. Choose either the Okarito Trig Walk (1h30mins return) for spectacular views of the lagoon and glaciers or enjoy the coastal views and wildlife along the Okarito Coastal Walk (3h30mins return). Find out more about these walks and others in the area with our 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.
Location: The Strand, Okarito. 27km (17 miles) southwest of Franz Josef.
5. Do a Helicopter Flight Over the Southern Alps
Gaze upon a pristine landscape carved by glaciers on a scenic helicopter flight from Franz Josef. Fly over the Franz Josef Glacier and land on a secluded ice field with Glacier Helicopters (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor). See both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers before landing above them with The Helicopter Line West Coast (on Viator, Tripadvisor and KKday). Or get the “grand tour” on a 40-minute flight around Aoraki Mt Cook, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier with HeliServices.NZ (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). See more tours like this in the 9 Best Luxury Experiences in Franz Josef.
Location: All tours depart from the helicopter operators’ offices on Main Street, Franz Josef township.
6. See a Kiwi Bird at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
The perfect rainy-day activity in Franz Josef, the West Coast Wildlife Centre is the South Island’s largest kiwi hatching facility. This is your chance to see New Zealand’s national icon up-close! The centre also has an interactive glacier exhibition. Find out more about the West Coast Wildlife Centre on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, check out more experiences like this in the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids.
Location: Corner of Cron and Cowan Streets, Franz Josef township.
7. Kayak on Lake Mapourika
Paddle on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika on a kayaking tour with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours. No kayaking experience is necessary, as you glide across the waters with ease on this placid lake surrounded by lush rainforest and ever-present views of the mountains in the distance. Look out for wildlife like eels and follow your guide down hidden creeks while listening to local Maori legends. Check out Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook for more information on Franz Josef Wilderness Tours. Plus, compare this tour with others in the 10 Best Kayak Tours in New Zealand.
Location: Tours depart either from Franz Josef Wilderness Tours’ office on 63 Cron Street or Lake Mapourika Recreational Area.
8. Quad Bike Through a Glacier Valley
Explore valleys, riverbeds and rainforest left in the wake of the Franz Josef Glacier on an exciting tour with Across Country Quad Bikes. This 2-hour tour has you off-roading on all sorts of terrain, from rivers to grasslands. You’ll get driving tips and a time to practice with your guide before setting out on a thrilling journey. Check out Across Country Quad Bikes on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, compare this ATV tour to others with our 10 Places to Quad Bike in New Zealand for Adventure Junkies.
Location: 30 Main Road, Franz Josef township.
9. Fish for Brown Trout and Salmon at Lake Mapourika
Lake Mapourika is a hotbed for salmon and brown trout fishing, so enjoy it with your own gear (remember your fishing license) or join a local skipper who will sort all the logistics and gear out for you. Franz Josef Wilderness Tours offers fishing charters kitted up for all weathers. No previous experience is needed, just enjoy a few hours on the lake and try your luck. Brown Trout can be caught year-round, while the salmon season is October to March. Learn more about the tour on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook.
Location: Franz Josef Wilderness Tours’ office, 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.
10. Skydive Over the Franz Josef Glacier
See the Franz Josef Glacier from epic heights on a 20,000ft skydive! Freefall at 200km/h (124mph) for up to 85 seconds in this ultimate adrenaline activity. The skydive with Skydive Franz & Fox is mixed with some of the most varied and epic scenery available in New Zealand with views of the highest peaks of the country, the Franz Josef Glacier and river valleys meandering their way out to the Tasman Sea. They also offer jumps from 16,500ft and 13,000ft – find out more about this skydive on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook. Plus, compare this skydive to others with our 12 Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.
Location: 46 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.
11. Unwind in the Waiho Hot Tubs
We get it; not all of us are into glacier exploration, jumping from planes or splashing on a cold lake. Alternatively (or additionally if you want to treat yourself after your activity of the day), head to Waiho Hot Tubs. Enjoy an indulgent wood-fired hot pool experience nestled among the ferns with the opportunity to bring your own nibbles and drinks. You can also choose to add Epsom salts or lavender hydrosol to your pool. We also consider this one of the best rainy day activities, as listed in the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef on a Rainy Day.
Location: 64B Cron Street, Franz Josef town.
12. Enjoy a Scenic Cruise on Lake Mapourika
We’ve talked a lot about the stunning glacier-carved Lake Mapourika, and yes, there is another way to experience it! With Franz Josef Wilderness Tours, spend two hours cruising the vividly reflective waters with sweeping panoramic views of the Southern Alps. The small-group boat tour makes for a relaxing way to explore the lake for all ages and includes hot beverages onboard. There’s also the option to upgrade to do a guided bushwalk through some of the area’s last remaining kahikatea rainforest where New Zealand’s rarest kiwi bird, the rowi, lives. Find out more about Franz Josef Wilderness Tours on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Lake Mapourika Recreational Area, Waiho, approximately 9km (6 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
13. Check Out the Glowworms at Night on the Terrace Walk
Have you seen glowworms in New Zealand yet? There’s a chance to see them for free on the Terrace Walk at the southern end of Franz Josef township. After dark, look around and under the fallen trees alongside the track for a chance to see the blue lights of the glowworms shimmering. Even in the day, this walk is a beautiful example of the West Coast’s lush rainforest. Allow 30 minutes to walk the trail and return the same way.
Location: Southern end of Franz Josef town, State Highway 6 after Our Lady of the Alps Church.
14. Carve a Greenstone Pendant
A real hidden gem in Franz Josef, the Te Koha Gallery is a jade carving studio where you can carve your own varients of pounamu (greenstone/jade) including nephrite jade, tangi wai, aotea, rhodonite. Become a part of the Maori tradition of jade carving in this one-to-two hour workshop, time depending on the design. Learn more about jade carvings and their meanings here. See more trips like this in the 9 Most Romantic Things to Do in Franz Josef for Couples.
Location: 69 Waiho Flat Road, Franz Josef town.
15. Do the Peters Pool Walk
Looking for an easy walk to do in Franz Josef? Check out Peters Pool, a 20-minute return walk that’s even wheelchair and stroller-friendly. Enjoy the scenery of this small lake filled with dark tannins to reflect the views of the glacier valley. The kettle lake was formed by melting ice around 200 years ago. Again, this is just one of the walks of many listed in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.
Location: Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
16. Indulge in a Spa Treatment at Amaia Luxury Spa
Have some “me time” at Amaia Luxury Spa. Part of the Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier, the Amaia Spa is open to the public and offers an extensive menu of massages, facials, hands, feet and body treatments. Try therapies with local products made from manuka honey or treat yourself to complete spa package ranging from hot stone massages and facials to complete top-to-toe treatments including manicures and pedicures.
Location: 36 Main Road, Franz Josef town.
17. Hike the Roberts Point Track
Ready for a hiking mission? If you are fit and able, the Roberts Point Track is a rewarding hike to some spectacular views of the Franz Josef Glacier. The 5h20min return hike winds up a rough trail along the Franz Josef Glacier Valley onto the open ice-smoothed outcrops where you’ll find Hende’s Hut and a good place for a snack break. Continue over exposed scrubland to a long suspension bridge across Rope Creek and upwards to the final viewing platform at Roberts Point.
Location: Either start at the Alex Knob/Lake Wombat car park, Glacier Access Road, approximately 2km (1 mile) from Franz Josef town centre. Or the Franz Josef Glacier car park at the end of Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
18. See Mining Tunnels and Relics on the Tatare Tunnels and Callery Gorge Walks
Yet another interesting aspect of the Franz Josef area is its mining history. The Tatare Tunnels Walk and Callery Gorge Walk both showcase remnants of the area’s gold-mining heritage that’s now being reclaimed by nature. What’s more, both trails are connected. Take a torch and a rain jacket on the 1h20min return Tatare Tunnels Walk which takes you to water tunnels that were carved by miners in the early 20th Century. The Callery Gorge Walk branches off the Tatare Tunnels Walk about five minutes in, giving you access to the 1h20min adventure ascending a terrace behind Franz Josef town before following an old water race and abandoned mining relics. You’ll then descend to the Callery Gorge Bridge where you can admire views of the milky waters of this scenic gorge.
Location: End of Cowan Street, Franz Josef town.
19. Unwind at the Glacier Hot Pools
Head to the Glacier Hot Pools for some time to unwind. After all, you deserve it. Nestled in surroundings inspired by nature, from local rainforest to riverbed rocks, the hot pools provide a stunning environment. Choose from varying temperatures in the three main pools or treat yourself to a private pool. Check out the Glacier Hot Pools on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.
20. Treat Yourself to Some Franz Josef Dining
Finally, conclude an epic day of heli-hiking, quad biking, scenic flying, skydiving or whatever with a hearty West Coast meal in Franz Josef. A must-try is Alice May where you can learn about the fascinating story of Alice May written on the placemats while you wait for your New Zealand beer or regional wine along with homemade traditional Kiwi cuisine.
Blue Ice Restaurant & Bar is well worth booking a table for its well-presented plates of international crowd-pleasers in a casual setting. For Southeast Asian street food combined with New Zealand craft beer, head to the Snake Bite Brewery – no, it’s not actually a brewery itself but pours a range of NZ’s finest.
Finally, check out the all-you-can-eat-pizza nights at Monsoon Restaurant. Find more restaurant recommendations in The Luxury Guide to Franz Josef and The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Franz Josef.
Location: Alice May – 30 Cron Street. Blue Ice Restaurant & Bar – 12 Main Road. Snake Bite Brewery – 28 Main Road. Monsoon Restaurant – 46 Cron Street.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Franz Josef
That’s it for our ultimate list of the best things to do in Franz Josef but not the end of all of the Franz Josef offerings. Check out the guides below for more activity inspiration:
- Mountain Biking on the West Coast
- 7 Ways to Take on New Zealand’s Glaciers
- 7 Best Things to Do in Fox Glacier
Finally, find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do on the South Island and 10 Unique & Unusual Things to Do on the South Island.