Towering peaks, crevasse-filled glaciers, and sparkling waterways define the World Heritage area around the town of Franz Josef. Whether you hover over ice formations in a helicopter or strap on crampons for a hike, a trip to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers is truly unforgettable. Here’s how to make the most of three days in the region.
A helicopter is the ideal choice for getting up close to the glaciers. Marvel at the mantle of pure white snow, then make a snow landing at the head of either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier and walk along the Main Divide. Lastly, head down toward the lush rainforests that sit at the edge of the Tasman Sea.
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can take a tandem skydiving trip: Board an aircraft, then drop through the sky high above Mt. Cook. The panoramic views of both glaciers from the sky are unparalleled, and the drop includes up to 75 seconds of free fall. Alternatively, for a less heart-thumping experience, head to the West Coast Wildlife Centre, where you can see flightless kiwi birds up close at the South Island’s largest hatching facility.
Franz Josef offers a range of hiking opportunities. If you’re feeling adventurous, climb back into a helicopter, this time for a heli-hike on a glacier. Upon landing, grab your ice axe, and follow guides on a trip that will have you squeezing through tight blue crevasses or shuffling down near-vertical walls of ice. Alternatively, take a walking tour through the valley and right up to the dramatic terminal face of the advancing glacier.
Another option for exploring the local terrain is an ATV tour, a thrilling ride that bumps over muddy off-road paths through scenic rainforest and river beds. Or, for a quieter excursion, take a guided nature walk around nearby Lake Matheson, where the reflective waters make great photo ops of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman, or learn about the region’s fascinating ecosystem on an eco-tour.
Franz Josef isn’t just all about the ice and snow. For a different experience, head to Lake Mapourika, which is located only minutes from the village but feels like it is worlds away. Book a kayaking guide to take you paddling over tranquil waters and lead you on a secluded rainforest walk, or visit the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary for a glimpse of New Zealand’s national bird. Anglers can set off on a fishing expedition on a chartered boat with a skipper on board who will help you catch salmon or brown trout; many boats provide equipment and hot beverages. On your last evening in the region, head out on a scenic evening cruise and capture majestic panoramic photos of the Southern Alps reflected in the lake and lit by sunset’s alpenglow.