How to Plan a Family Trip to Franz Josef Glacier
You may know Franz Josef or Waiau for being the base of one of the world’s most accessible glaciers. Just six kilometres from the small village lies the Franz Josef Glacier which descends from the mountaintops of the Southern Alps. Landing on the glacier in a helicopter is an exciting prospect for many, and we list the best way to do that with kids in this family guide to Franz Josef, but there’s much more to discover in the area. Cruise or kayak across lakes with the sharp reflection of the mountains, find family-friendly walks with glacial features or glowworms, and get close to New Zealand’s iconic kiwi birds at the largest kiwi hatchery in the South Island.
Sounds like your sort of family getaway? Start planning the activities and accommodation with this travel guide to Franz Josef for families.
Family Activities in Franz Josef
- Explore and learn about the Franz Josef Glacier with Glacier Valley Eco Tours
- Take a helicopter flight with a snow landing on the Franz Josef Glacier with The Helicopter Line or HeliServices.NZ
- See kiwi birds at the West Coast Wildlife Centre
- See amazing rainforest and a glacier-formed lake on the Peters Pool Walk
- Cruise Lake Mapourika with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours
- Or paddle on Lake Mapourika with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours
- Explore the mining tunnels on the Tatare Tunnels Walk
- Check out the glowworms at night on the Terrace Walk
- Wait out a rainy day at the Glacier Hot Pools or Waiho Hot Tubs
- Look out for the rare white heron with Okarito Boat Eco Tours.
For more details on each experience, take a look at the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids.
Family Adventure Activities
There’s an exciting array of activities for families to experience the Franz Josef Glacier and the landscape formed by it.
Glacier Valley Tours
While heli-hikes have an age restriction of eight years and above, options that are better for all ages include tours with 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 this 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 on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Family-Friendly Helicopter Tours
If you want to see Franz Josef Glacier from above (and we mean, who doesn’t?!), join one of the helicopter operators like HeliServices.NZ and The Helicopter Line. Ideal for kids with short attention spans the Neve Discoverer helicopter flight with The Helicopter Line is 20 minutes of hovering over crevasses and towering ice formations and landing atop a snowfield at the top of the Franz Josef Glacier. Learn more about the experience, read reviews and book 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 or Klook.
Cruises on Lake Mapourika
Franz Josef isn’t just about the glacier itself, however, as the lakes and rainforest left in its wake are also amazing to explore. A family-friendly option on the glacier-carved Lake Mapourika is with Franz Josef Wilderness Tours. Spend two hours cruising the vividly reflective waters with sweeping panoramic views of the Southern Alps and rainforest. The boat 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.
For more adventures, like a family-friendly cruise on the Okarito Lagoon, check out the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef with Kids.
Family All-Weather Activities
The West Coast is notorious for its wet weather, so we’ve made sure to include a few rainy day backups in this guide to Franz Josef for families.
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 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 fighting fit for being released in the wild. See kiwi birds in special nocturnal houses, learn about the glacier in interactive displays and even purchase a Backstage Pass to see kiwi chicks and meet the ranger team. Check out more information on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Glacier Hot Pools
Another rainy day activity for the whole family is indulging in a dip at the Glacier Hot Pools. Relax 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 love exploring the facility nestled in 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!
For more rainy day activities, head to the 10 Things to Do in Franz Josef on a Rainy Day.
Free Family Activities
Sure, Franz Josef is not the kindest destination on your budget, especially if you’ve opted for a helicopter tour. Nevertheless, there are many short walks in Franz Josef for families that are free to do and get you experiencing more of the mighty glacier-carved landscape.
Family Walks 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. Find the walk along the Glacier Access Road.
For families with fully-mobile kids, take them on an adventure to the Tatare Tunnels Walk. Take a torch and a rain jacket because this 1h20min 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!
Finally, after dark, head to the Terrace Walk at the southern end of Franz Josef township to see glowworms, especially under fallen trees alongside the track. 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.
For more walks and their locations, check out the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef. And more for free activities, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
More About Franz Josef for Families
That’s it for our guide to Franz Josef for families. For more Franz Josef advice that doesn’t fall under the “family” category but are still just as useful, check out the following guides:
- The Travel Guide to Franz Josef on a Budget
- The Luxury Travel Guide to Franz Josef
- The Complete Travel Guide to Franz Josef
We hope you found this guide to Franz Josef for families useful. 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.