Have you ever flown in a helicopter? Have you ever flown in a helicopter up to a glacier? Have you ever flown in a helicopter up to a glacier that’s located in the middle of a rainforest with the ocean just around the corner? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any of these question then be sure to include the mighty Franz Josef Glacier in your NZ travel plans!
Franz Josef Glacier is a 12 km (7.5 mi) long glacier named after the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. It is part of the Westland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island and one of the main attractions with thousands of visitors each year.
But before I treat you to some stunning pictures from my glacier adventure, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to have the same memorable experience. Oh and don’t worry about spoilers! Franz Josef Glacier is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world (flowing about half a meter per day!) which means that the glacier looks different every day!
The early Māori knew Franz Josef as Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere (Tears of the Avalanche Girl). Legend tells of a girl losing her lover who fell from the local peaks, and her flood of tears freezing into the glacier.
How to visit Franz Josef Glacier
- Stay at Franz Josef Glacier village. This tiny town with only about 330 permanent residents is all about the visitors with hotels, hostels and restaurant catering to your every need.
- The only way up to the glacier is via helicopter. Since 2012, hiking up to the glacier has been deemed too dangerous because of the unstable terminal face.
- If you’re on a budget, you can still see the glacier up close by hiking along the Waiho river bed. This 1,5 hour return walk takes you all the way up to a viewing platform that offers some stunning views of the ever-changing terminal face.
- If you definitely want to walk on the glacier, you need a lot of patience. Because of the topography, the close proximity to the ocean and the surrounding rainforest, the weather is extremely unpredictable. If it’s too cloudy or too windy, the helicopters can’t fly and the tours might be cancelled at any moment.
- You wonder how unpredictable it is? When I wanted to visit the glacier, I was booked on the morning tour. Because of too much wind, the morning tour was cancelled and I was told to come back at noon. Luckily, we could fly up to the glacier the second time around. All the tours later in the day, however, were cancelled again! Most of my friends were scheduled for a flight just one hour after mine and had to turn around right before climbing into the helicopter…
- For a slightly cheaper option, you can book a scenic helicopter flight. You will land in the snow but you won’t actually get to walk around on the glacier.
Experience the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides NZ
- Franz Josef Glacier Guides NZ is the only company that offers guided glacier hikes.
- They are extremely popular (particularly from November to March), so book your tour as soon as possible.
- You can choose between the relaxed Glacier Heli Hike and the adventurous Heli Ice Climb
- Glacier Heli Hike
- Price: $449 NZD
- Duration: up to 4 hours
- Minimum age: 8 years
- Scenic Heli Flight
- Relaxed pace
- Free entry to hot pools
- Heli Ice Climb
- Price: $525 NZD
- Duration: up to 5 hours
- Minimum age: 16 years
- Learn how to climb a glacier
- No experience required
- They provide all the necessary equipment from crampons and warm boots to waterproof trousers and jackets
- You need to bring your own drinks and a snack.
- You can’t bring a backpack but they provide you with a small fanny pack.
- If your flight is cancelled, you can either transfer to their Glacier Valley walk or get a refund.
15 pictures that prove Franz Josef Glacier is the coolest place in NZ
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Have you ever walked around on a glacier?