Family Activities in Franz Josef
The allure of the West Coast glaciers captures many when planning a trip around the South Island but with a focus on adventure activities, is it feasible to do with kids? Absolutely! From family-friendly helicopter flights with landings on the snowfields of the glacier to relaxing cruises on lakes formed by the glacier, there are many ways to get that must-do glacier experience with children in tow. A wildlife centre with kiwi birds, kayaking tours, short walks and more family activities are on the cards, so pick the right tours for your family with this list of the best things to do in Franz Josef with kids!
For more family activities in Franz Josef, as well as general travel advice, take a look at The Guide to Franz Josef for Families and the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Franz Josef.
1. Enjoy a Scenic Cruise on Lake Mapourika
The Franz Josef experience is as much as it is about the glacier as it is about the formations left in its wake. A family-friendly option to explore the latter is a scenic cruise on the glacier-carved Lake Mapourika. With Franz Josef Wilderness Tours, spend two hours cruising the vividly reflective waters of the lake 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.
Location: Lake Mapourika Recreational Area, Waiho, approximately 9km (6 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
2. Explore and Learn About the Franz Josef Glacier with Glacier Valley Eco Tours
We know that getting onto a guided heli-hiking glacier tour with little ones is less than ideal, but if you want a more family-friendly option while still getting to learn all about the magnificent landscape of the Franz Josef Glacier, join Glacier Valley Eco Tours. Walk in the valley of the Franz Josef Glacier and learn all about how the valley was formed, about the local flora and fauna, as well as Maori legends and history of the area on a two-hour walking tour. The walk is ideal for all ages and the team will even provide a baby backpack carrier if needed. Find out more information about the tour, as well as read reviews, on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 29 The Strand, Okarito, approximately 27km (17 miles) from Franz Josef township (pick-ups are available).
3. Take a Helicopter Flight with a Snow Landing on the Franz Josef Glacier
The next best way to experience the glaciers with kids is from above with a helicopter landing on the snowfields. What’s more, tours like the Neve Discoverer helicopter flights with The Helicopter Line are ideal for short attention spans by being just 20 minutes of hovering over crevasses and towering ice formations before landing at the top of the glacier. Learn more about the tour on Viator, Tripadvisor or KKday. Alternatively, fly to both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier with HeliServices.NZ, also including a snow landing, as featured on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook.
Location: The Helicopter Line – 20 Main Road. Heliservices.NZ – 29 Main Road.
4. See Kiwi Birds at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
Now is your chance to see a real kiwi bird in New Zealand! Whatever the weather, make sure you leave some time in your family itinerary for the West Coast Wildlife Centre. This indoor attraction is the largest kiwi hatchery facility in the South Island, where kiwi chicks are hatched and nurtured until they’re fit and strong enough to be released in the wild. See kiwi birds in special nocturnal houses, learn about the local glacier in interactive displays and even purchase a Backstage Pass to see kiwi chicks. Check out more information on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, find more rainy day backups in the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef on a Rainy Day.
Location: Corner of Cowan and Cron Streets, Franz Josef town.
5. See Amazing Rainforest and a Glacier-Formed Lake on the Peters Pool Walk
Stick to your travel budget by filling up some of your itinerary with the free things to do in Franz Josef. A good place to start is the Peters Pool Walk, a 25-minute loop walk that’s flat and stroller-friendly. Wind through the rainforest to a small kettle lake that was formed by melting ice in a glacial moraine some 200 years ago.
Location: Glacier Access Road, approximately 4km (2 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
6. Paddle on Lake Mapourika on a Kayaking Tour
For families who are a little bit more active, how about gliding across Lake Mapourika in a kayaking tour? Join Franz Josef Wilderness Tours for a guided paddle across the tranquil lake with striking reflections of the surrounding rainforest and distant mountains. With double kayaks used in the tour, this means you can team up with the kids to paddle together or for them to let mum or dad do all the work.
Location: Depart either 64 Cron Street, Franz Josef town or the Lake Mapourika Recreational Area, Waiho, approximately 9km (6 miles) from Franz Josef town centre.
7. Explore the Mining Tunnels on the Tatare Tunnels Walk
Another fantastic walk in Franz Josef for families, this one with fully-mobile kids, the Tatare Tunnels Walk is quite the adventure! Take a torch and a rain jacket because this 1h20mins return walk takes you to water tunnels that were carved by miners in the early 20th Century. You might get wet feet if you choose to explore them but that’s all part of the fun! Learn more about Franz Josef’s walks in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.
Location: End of Cowan Street, Franz Josef town.
8. Check Out the Glowworms at Night on the Terrace Walk
A walk with a difference in Franz Josef, head to the Terrace Walk at the southern end of Franz Josef township after dark to see glowworms! 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. Check out more places around the country to see glowworms in the 10 Free Glowworm Caves in New Zealand.
Location: Southern end of Franz Josef town, State Highway 6 after Our Lady of the Alps Church.
9. Wait Out a Rainy Day at the Glacier Hot Pools or Waiho Hot Tubs
Another great option if you find yourself in Franz Josef on a rainy day, the Glacier Hot Pools is a relaxing family-friendly attraction. Unwind in one of the three pools of the main hot pools complex with temperatures ranging from 36 to 40°C (97-104°F). While there aren’t any “kiddies pools” or play areas, children still love exploring the facility nestled in the rainforest. What’s more, the pools are protected by shade sails so you needn’t have to worry about raindrops on your head or the kids getting sunburnt.
Alternatively, try the Waiho Hot Tubs, which are big enough to comfortably fit a family of four. Enjoy your own private freshwater hot tub and bring your own refreshments!
Location: Glacier Hot Pools – 63 Cron Street, Franz Josef town. Waio Hot Tubs – 64B Cron Street, Franz Josef town.
10. Look Out for the Rare White Heron with Okarito Boat Eco Tours
A relatively unknown natural attraction in the Franz Josef area, the Okarito Lagoon is a special environment and the only place in New Zealand where white heron (kotuku) nest. There are two tours a day with Okarito Boat Eco Tours, both in the morning, where you’ll cruise across New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland and see breathtaking sea-to-mountains landscapes. There’s a variety of majestic birds to see between the quirky royal spoonbills to the majestic white herons. Tours last approximately two hours and include a hot drink and snacks.
Location: 31 Wharf Street, Okarito, approximately 27km (17 miles) from Franz Josef town.
More Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids
That’s it for our list of the best things to do in Franz Josef with kids. For more Franz Josef activities that don’t fall under the “family” category but are still just as amazing, check out the following guides:
- 10 Epic Things to Do in Franz Josef
- 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef
- 9 Best Luxury Experiences in Franz Josef
- 7 Best Things to Do in Fox Glacier
Finally, discover even more family trip tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families. Plus, plan the rest of your South Island trip using the South Island Family Itinerary: Two Weeks or South Island Family Itinerary: One Week.