How to Visit Franz Josef on a Budget
Seeing the mighty Franz Josef Glacier is on the bucket list for many travelling the South Island of New Zealand. But don’t worry, a $460+ glacier heli-hike is by no means mandatory to enjoy this spectacular region. In fact, you can see the Franz Josef Glacier, as well as a diverse array of landscapes that the glacier has left in its path, on foot. What’s more, you don’t even need your own transport to enjoy many of the walks which are accessible from the village.
Combine the walks with a stay in the affordable hostels, motels or the holiday park and you have a reasonably-priced visit to Franz Josef. Plan your trip with this travel guide to Franz Josef on a budget!
Budget Tips for Franz Josef
- Stay in hostels, which are the cheapest type of accommodation in Franz Josef and also offer private rooms
- Restaurants and even cafes are expensive in Franz Josef, so stay in self-catering accommodation to make your own meals. There is a Four Square supermarket in town (or bring supplies from Greymouth or Hokitika where supermarkets are more affordable)
- Visit in the low season (May to September) to find cheaper deals on activities and accommodation
- Travelling outside of the low season? Book accommodation in advance to get your first choice in this busy tourist town
- Hike! It’s a free way to admire the grand Franz Josef landscape. Check out walks in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef
- Remember there’s Fox Glacier too! It’s only 20 minutes drive away and you’ll also find affordable accommodation and walks there.
For more general budget advice, see the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Franz Josef
Tie up your hiking shoes because the free things to do in Franz Josef includes a lot of walking! That’s right, seeing the epic landscapes carved by the Franz Josef Glacier means doing a few walks, of which there are many. A must-do is the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, which is the best free way to get as close to the glacier as possible. The 1h30min return walk takes you through dramatic glacial valley landscape featuring a rocky riverbed, Trident Falls and other formations as the glacier continues to retreat. Find the walk at the end of the Glacier Access Road.
For an alternative landscape of 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 in New Zealand by being the largest unmodified wetland in the country. 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 New Zealand.
And for something a little different from the above two walks, do the Terrace Walk at night to see glowworms! Take a torch and wander down this well-formed 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. 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.
These walks are just the beginning, so check out more options in the 10 Best Walks in Franz Josef.
Cheap Activities in Franz Josef
Admittedly, you won’t find “cheap” activities in Franz Josef but you will find attractions that are “cheaper” than the rest and that includes 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 this is the South Island’s largest kiwi hatchery, you won’t get to see kiwi chicks unless you pay extra for the Backstage Pass. Other attractions the Unlimited Pass also includes an interactive glacier exhibition. Check out more information on Viator and Tripadvisor.
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 to 40ºC (97-104ºF). The environment adds to the pampering, set in beautiful rainforest and landscaped with stones for a more natural setting.
For more free and cheap activities in Franz, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Franz Josef.
Cheap Eats in Franz Josef
You are in a small village that’s sole income is tourist dollars… With that in mind, almost all of the food offerings in Franz Josef are at the highest end of the price spectrum. Exceptions are the food trucks, like Burrito Magic and Lot 64 Eatery, that are usually sitting along Cron Street where the i-SITE and many accommodation and activities are based. You better like Mexican food! Their burritos are yummy and affordable.
Another budget-traveller-foodie-saviour is when Monsoon Bar & Restaurant (46 Cron Street) does its all-you-can-eat pizza nights! You pay around NZ$18 (price subject to change) to sit at a large table with your fellow budget travellers to eat endless amounts of gourmet pizza, typically with a drink included. The event is usually advertised on posters around the Rainforest Retreat accommodation.
Finally, you’ll also find affordable cabinet food at the West Coast Wildlife Centre cafe (Corner of Cowan and Cron Streets), ranging from homemade sausage rolls and pies to quiches all under NZ$10 each.