10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef

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Free (and Cheap) Activities in Franz Josef Glacier

Don’t feel compelled to book onto a $460+ heli-hike. Tie up your hiking boots instead and enjoy the myriad of hiking trails to see the dramatic glacier-formed landscape and the Franz Josef Glacier itself. Admittedly, all of the free things to do in Franz Josef are walks, from short walks to see glowworms to lengthy hikes on the mountaintops. Combine these with a few of the cheaper attractions in town and you have an affordable alternative to what is traditionally one of the most expensive destinations in New Zealand. Stick to your budget with ease using this list of free and cheap things to do in Franz Josef.

For more budget tips, head to The Guide to Franz Josef on a Budget.

1. See the Franz Josef Glacier on the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk – FREE

Let’s start the ungodly amount of walking you’ll be doing in Franz Josef with the must-do Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. It is arguably the best free way to get as close to the glacier as possible. The 1h30min return walk takes you through a dramatic glacial valley landscape featuring a rocky riverbed, Trident Falls and other formations as the glacier continues to retreat. At the end of the trail, you’ll get views of the ever-changing environment of the Franz Josef Glacier terminal face.

Location: End of the Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.

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2. See Rare Birds at the Okarito Lagoon – FREE

For an alternative landscape in the Franz Josef area and a seriously underrated attraction, Okarito Lagoon is well worth seeking out. It’s a short drive from Franz Josef but it’s one of the most unique ecosystems, as it’s the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. Take the Okarito Coastal Walk (3h30mins return) to wander through the habitat of more than 76 species of native birds including the rare and majestic white heron in their only nesting site in the country. You’ll also get fabulous mountains-to-sea scenery. Check out more walks in the area listed in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.

Location: The Strand, Okarito, approximately 27km (17 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© Pxhere

3. Check Out the Glowworms on the Terrace Walk – FREE

And for something a little different from the above two walks, do the Terrace Walk after dark to see glowworms! Take a torch and wander down this well-formed flat trail accessible from Franz Josef village. Look under and around the fallen tree branches beside the track to see the blue shimmering of the glowworms (and turn off your torch at this point to get the best views of the glowworms – not sure if we need to say that, but just in case). Otherwise, this is still a pleasant walk to do in the daytime to admire the lush rainforest. The walk takes 30 minutes to complete the return walk.

Location: Southern end of Franz Josef town, State Highway 6 after Our Lady of the Alps Church.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

4. Learn About Franz Josef’s Kiwis and Glaciers at the West Coast Wildlife Centre – CHEAP

Admittedly, you won’t find really “cheap” activities in Franz Josef but you will find attractions that are “cheaper” than the rest, including the West Coast Wildlife Centre. Costing around NZ$35 per adult, their Unlimited Pass gives you access to the main centre to see young kiwi birds in the nocturnal house where they grow to be strong enough to be released into the wild. While the West Coast Wildlife Centre is the South Island’s largest kiwi hatchery, you won’t get to see kiwi chicks unless you pay extra for the Backstage Pass – well worth it if you have the budget and a soft spot for adorable wildlife. Other attractions on the Unlimited Pass, however, also include an interactive glacier exhibition.

Location: Corner of Cowan and Cron Streets, Franz Josef town.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© westcoast.co.nz

5. Check Out Peters Pool – FREE

A cute little walk that’s child-, stroller- and wheelchair-accessible, the Peters Pool Walk winds through the rainforest to a small kettle lake that was formed by melting ice in a glacial moraine some 200 years ago. The loop walk takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. See more family-friendly walks and attractions in the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids.

Location: Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

6. Hike the Roberts Point Track – FREE

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.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

7. See Mining Tunnels and Relics on the Tatare Tunnels and Callery Gorge Walks – FREE

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 areas 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.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

8. Get Another Awesome View of the Franz Josef Glacier on the Sentinel Rock Walk – FREE

Want to get views of the Franz Josef Glacier without too much effort? Take the 20-minute return walk on the Sentinel Rock Walk. It’s a short climb with rewarding views of the glacier valley, Franz Josef Glacier and the Waiho River. Again, for more walks in the area, check out the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.

Location: Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.

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9. Have a Soak at the Glacier Hot Pools – CHEAP

Another semi-affordable activity in Franz Josef, although more pricey than other hot pools in the country, the Glacier Hot Pools costs around NZ$30 to access the three main pools. Indulge in the soothing waters with temperatures between 36 and 40ºC (97-104ºF). The environment adds to the pampering, set in beautiful rainforest and landscaped with stones for a more natural setting.

Location: 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef town.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

10. Mingle with Other Travellers Over All-You-Can-Eat Pizzas – CHEAP

Franz Josef doesn’t have much in the way of “cheap eats” but the exception to the rule is when the Monsoon Bar & Restaurant does its all-you-can-eat pizza nights! You pay around NZ$18 (price subject to change) to sit at a large table with fellow budget travellers to eat endless amounts of gourmet pizza, typically with a drink included. The bi-weekly event is usually advertised on posters around the Rainforest Retreat accommodation.

Location: 46 Cron Street, Franz Josef town.

10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef© NZPocketGuide.com

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