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 it over thousands of years. Find out what you could be getting up to with this list of things to do in Franz Josef.
1. Do a Free or Guided Walk to the Franz Josef Glacier Terminal Face
Walk through the breathtaking Franz Josef Glacier Valley to a viewpoint of the Franz Josef terminal face. The 1h30mins return walk also features the beautiful Trident Falls. Although the walk is one of the free things to do in Franz Josef, you can enrich your experience further by taking a 3-hour guided hike through the valley with Glacier Valley Eco Tours (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Franz Josef Glacier Guides (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Location: Glacier Access Road, 5km (3 miles) from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge.
2. Heli-Hike onto 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 on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Location: Tours depart from The Helicopter Line office on Main Street.
3. 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.
4. 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 and Tripadvisor). Or get the “grand tour” on a 40-minute flight around Aoraki Mt Cook, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier with HeliServices NZ Fox & Franz (on Viator and Tripadvisor). See more tours like this in the 8 Luxury Activities in Franz Josef.
Location: All tours depart from the helicopter operators’ offices on Main Street, Franz Josef township.
5. 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.
6. Kayak on Lake Mapourika
Paddle on the reflective waters of Lake Mapourika on a kayaking tour with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours. No 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 and Tripadvisor for more information on Franz Josef Wilderness Tours. See more trips like this in the 8 Romantic Activities in Franz Josef for Couples.
Location: Tours depart either from Franz Josef Wilderness Tours’ office on 64 Cron Street or Lake Mapourika Recreational Area.
7. 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.
8. 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 and Tripadvisor.
Location: Franz Josef Wilderness Tours’ office, 64 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.
9. Unwind at the Glacier Hot Pools
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 the Glacier Hot Pools for some time to unwind. After all, you deserve it. Check out the Glacier Hot Pools on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.
10. Skydive Over the Franz Josef Glacier
Finally, 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 and Tripadvisor. Plus, compare this skydive to others with our 12 Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand.
Location: 46 Cron Street, Franz Josef township.