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New Zealand: Hiking to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are the two biggest of the 140 New Zealand glaciers – and the easiest to reach. I will show you how to get to these glaciers and what they look like. 

Normally you can only get to glaciers on guided tours and helicopter rides but Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are different. Since the lower end of these glaciers reaches the rainforest zone you only need a short hike from the glacier car park. 

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

  Franz Joseph Glacier hike, New Zealand

We spent a day walking to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, hiking along valleys that the glaciers have formed and with snow-capped mountains on our both sides.

I will show you our hikes to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and what you need to take with you to a short glacier walk. I will also show you Franz Josef Glacier village where we stayed the night.

This is one of the posts (post number 3) in my series of posts about our South Island campervan trip. You can find all posts on our trip on my New Zealand main page New Zealand South Island Road Trip in 11 Days.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are located in the amazing Westland Tai Poutini National Park that borders the highest peaks of New Zealand. The highest peak is Aoraki Mount Cook, 3754 m which also is the highest peak in the whole country.

In addition to Mount Cook the Westland Tai Poutini National Park has dozens of other peaks over 3000 m.

Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are large bodies of ice that move slowly downhill carrying moraine with them. The glaciers are not white, they rather look blue and grey. The blue colour comes from snow in the ice.

Normally glaciers only survive in areas of permanent snow but Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers descend all the way down to the altitude of 250 m where rainforest grows.

Glaciers are moving a little bit all the time. At times when there is a lot of snow glaciers advance and when the ice melts they retreat.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers on the Map

 

The map shows the location of Franz Josef village on the South Island of New Zealand. That’s where Franz Josef Glacier also is and Fox Glacier is 30 km south. You can see the white glaciers on the map.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are accessible from the West Coast only. I have another post about West Coast and in that post I’m also telling about the roads you can choose to get to to West Coast.

Driving in New Zealand: South Island West Coast

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand South Island

Here you can see Franz Josef Glacier. It is a massive glacier and about 12 km long. As you can see it descends from the top of the Southern Alps to the rainforest zone at only 250 m.

How to Get to Franz Josef Glacier: the Map

 

Walking map from Franz Josef Village to Franz Josef Glacier car park. To see the glacier’s location on West Coast zoom out the map.

To get to Franz Josef Glacier you can either walk or drive from Franz Josef Glacier Village. The distance from the village to the glacier car park is 5 km and from the car park you need to walk something like 4 km.

Franz Josef Glacier bridge

Road to Franz Josef Glacier, River Waiho bridge

You first follow the main State Highway 6 and drive over Waiho River along a narrow old bridge – a very typical New Zealand bridge. After the bridge turn left and follow the Glacier Access Road to the car park.

From the car park it’s a 45 minute walk to Franz Josef Glacier, first in the rainforest and then up the stony Waiho River valley.

Walking to Franz Josef Glacier

Walking to Franz Josef Glacier

The track is full of stones and moraine from the glacier so you will need good shoes and you have to be prepared that your shoes may get wet. But we didn’t get wet at all, it was a sunny autumn day and the river was not flooding.

Here you can see walkers in the valley and the terminal face of the glacier. You can walk up to where the glacier begins and look at it at a close distance but you can not walk on the glacier itself.

Franz Josef Glacier walking track

Walking to Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier waterfalls

Mountain waterfalls carry ice melt water to Waiho River

Franz Josef Glacier walking track

Walker photographing stones on the way to Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier walking track view

Waiho River: clear glacier water

Franz Josef Glacier stones

Strong-coloured stones from Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier rock

Red and green moss on covering rocks in Waiho River valley.

Reaching Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

 

Since Franz Josef Glacier is a retreating glacier the ground closer to it has a lot of moraine from the glacier. That makes it a bit hard to walk, at least downwards. Moraine moves under your feet and it’s slippery.

The area where you are allowed to walk is marked and for safety reasons you are not allowed walk all the way to where the snow begins.

Franz Josef Glacier walking trail

Franz Josef Glacier icefall warning

Franz Josef Glacier glacier warning

Franz Josef Glacier hiking trail, New Zealand

One more look at Franz Josef Glacier and then back into the valley:

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand South Island

Franz Josef Glacier ice

Ice from Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier rocks

 Rocks in Waiho river valley

Franz Josef Glacier track

 Walking from Franz Josef Glacier

Now we have hiked to Franz Josef Glacier and the next thing we will do is to walk to Fox Glacier.

Fox Glacier

This is Aoraki Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand. You can see the huge Fox Glacier right below it.

Aoraki Mount Cook and Fox Glacier

Aoraki Mount Cook and Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is 13 km long and bigger than Franz Josef that we just saw. Fox Glacier also moves faster than Franz Josef Glacier.

In fact Fox is the largest glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. How can it keep its huge size in the warming New Zealand climate? Since four other alpine glaciers keep feeding it with ice.

Anyway, Fox Glacier is equally easy to reach on foot as Franz Josef Glacier.

Driving from Franz Josef to Fox Glacier

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, river view

State Highway 6 links Franz Josef to Fox Glaciers 

Fox Glacier is a short distance, half an hour’s drive and 30 km from Franz Josef Glacier Village.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers Driving  Map

The maps shows the drive between Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Fox Glacier also has an alpine village with the same name and the distance from the village to the glacier is 6 km.

Walking to Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier walk

Fox Glacier hike

From Fox Glacier car park it’s said to be a 30 minute walk to the glacier one way, but reserve more time. Even if the walk is shorter than the Franz Josef Glacier hike it’s more demanding.

To keep your feet dry you will need steady waterproof shoes. Or if you don’t have that you can always take off your shoes like I did. But think about that the glacier water  is ice cold.

Fox Glacier river crossing

Shoes off when hiking to Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier New Zealand red stones

Fox Glacier valley 

The trail is not the best I have seen and at some points it ‘s a bit hard to choose which stones to walk along:

Fox Glacier walking track

The stony path to Fox Glacier

But the Alpine views, they are great all the way. Look at that rock wall! And look at those two hikers, they really found a scenic place by the river!

Fox Glacier visitors

Two Fox Glacier hikers 

Reaching Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier: where the glacier river begins

Here are some photos of Foz Glacier. This is how close you can get. You can almost touch the blue snow and ice.

Fox Glacier ice

Fox Glacier: thick blue ice covered with sand and soil

Fox Glacier visitor

One more look At Fox Glacier before walking back

Water in glacier lakes can be either grey or blue, depending on what kind of particles the it contains. This is one of the small Fox glacier lakes, the one next to the car park.

Fox Glacier lake

One of Fox Glacier lakes

Now we have seen Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and there’s more to see around them. To see more we wanted to stay a night in the area. The center of the area is the village of Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier Village

Franz Josef Glacier Village

Franz Josef Glacier Village on New Zealand South Island

The village of Franz Josef Glacier probably is the best place to stay if you want to explore the glaciers. The village has some small hotels, hostels and holiday parks for overnight stay as well as a selection of restaurants and small shops where you can buy what you need.

The photo above shows the main street and below you can see the glacier car park. As you can see campervans are a very popular way of exploring New Zealand. Many tourists rent them at the airport and then travel around the beautiful islands.

Franz Joseph Glacier parking

Campervans at Franz Josef Glacier car park

This is one of the village shops. Franz Josef Village is an alpine village but the style is very different from what it is in the Alps in Europe. This part of the world uses Maori building style and follows Maori traditions and there are other typical New Zealand features as well, the kiwis.

Franz Josef Glacier village shop

Traditional Maori building style, Franz Josef Glacier Village

West Coast Kiwi Wildlife Centre

Franz Josef Clacier Village has a kiwi house where you have a chance to meet New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, the rowi.

The only place where rowi kiwis are found is the Okarito Forest near Franz Josef. There are less than 400 rowis left in the area and their life is endangered.

West Coast Kiwi Wildlife Centre

West Coast Kiwi Wildlife Centre

The Franz Josef village West Coast Kiwi Wildlife Centre has rowi kiwis in an indoor walk through area that very much reminds of the kiwis’ natural bush surroundings.

Kiwis are night animals but their rhythm has been turned to European time so they are awake at daytime to give visitors a better chance to observe them.  It’s dark like in the night in the hall but you can walk in lamplight.

Here you can read more about rowis and the West Coast Kiwi Wildlife Centre.

Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park

Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park

Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park

Since we like many others were touring New Zealand in a campervan we stayed at a holiday park, the Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park. Even if the name said it’s in the rainforest the place surprised us.

All camp sites and cottages were deep in the rainforest and our site was a bit difficult to find. A narrow road twisted and turned through the forest and we got lost a few times before finding the right place. But here we are!

Such a lovely place that has birdsong in the morning and New Zealand keas in addition! If you prefer staying in a hotel there is a rainforest retreat with hotel rooms and suites.

If you are interested this is the link: Franz Josef Rainforest Retreat

Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park

View from our campervan in Rainforest Holiday Park, Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Rainforest Holiday Park

A narrow road in deep rainforest

Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

And in the evening it got even better when we found hot pools right across the road.

Since New Zealand has a lot of geothermal activity there are natural hot pools all around the country. Geothermal activity in the earth makes warm water bubble up and form hot springs. Many of the natural hot pools are in forests while some of them are in villages and cities. Many of the hot pools have been built to real bathing complexes.

Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

Relaxing in Nez Zealand hot pools

The Glacier Hot Pools is a beautiful small bathing complex in lush rainforest and with exotic birdsong so we took our swimsuits and spent an evening in the hot waters. In blue, purple and green light surrounded by steam rising from the pools. There’s no better way to relax after a glacier walk day than soaking in a New Zealand hot pool!

You can read more and see more photos on the website of the Glacier Hot Pools.

Glacier Hot Pools entrance

Glacier Hot Pools, Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools rainforest

New Zealand rainforest from a hot pool

 

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Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are on the isolated West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, in a deep countryside.

I have written a separate West Coast post that shows you the driving itinerary down along West Coast, from Punakaiki to Haast:

Franz Josef Glacier road

Driving on South Island West Coast

More on New Zealand Travel

This was post number 3 about our New Zealand South Island campervan trip. You will find all other sections on my road trip page:

Crown Range Summit road

Campervan trip on New Zealand South Island

If you are interested in campervan travel in New Zealand check out my post New Zealand in Campervan: Christchurch to Greymouth.The post contains tips of planning a campervan trip and renting a campervan.

One comment

  1. Hello,
    I have to say that finally I found a post and a website that is to the point and full of great details. I am planning my trip to New Zealand and I have been struggling with finding good, honest information.
    Thank you! You have helped me tremendously with making good decisions for my trip.

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