BEST WAY TO SEE FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER
FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER ACTIVITIES
Discover the best of Glacier Country with our curated selection of must-see attractions and activities! At Ribbonwood Retreat, we're dedicated to helping you craft the perfect itinerary tailored to your interests, adventure level, and the local weather and tides. With a plethora of thrilling adventures in the region, we encourage you to stay a few nights to truly experience all that Glacier Country has to offer. To ensure you don't miss out on popular activities during peak season, we recommend contacting us when you book your stay to start planning your unforgettable trip.
As avid hikers and bird enthusiasts, we're eager to share our personal experiences and Jonathan's expert knowledge of local flora and fauna with fellow nature lovers. Explore our top picks for walks, nature tours, flights, and adventure activities in Franz Josef below.
Franz Josef Hikes
Discover the diverse and breathtaking hiking trails of Franz Josef and its surrounding areas, catering to all fitness levels and abilities. Delve into New Zealand's untouched temperate rainforest or explore closer to town – either way, you'll be captivated by the pristine beauty of nature. Choose your path: ascend to alpine gardens, blue ice caves, and glaciers, or meander under the rainforest canopy to serene water features like Lake Matheson, Lake Wombat, and Peters Pool, where tranquil mountain reflections await.
Keep an ear out for New Zealand's native bird species – their melodic calls will likely reach you before they come into view. Glacier Country's unique natural environment stands out as one of the few places on Earth free from dangerous animals or insects, ensuring a safe and unforgettable experience.
Te Ara a Waiau Cycleway & Douglas Walk
Duration: 1 hour cycle, 2 hours walk
Distance: 4km return on the track
Experience the best of both worlds by combining the Cycle Way and Douglas Walk in Glacier Country. Choose your adventure: hike, bike, or both! This versatile route is a personal favorite, leading you up the picturesque Glacier Valley. For an immersive experience, we suggest biking to the Glacier Valley Carpark along the beautifully maintained mountain bike trail. Wind gently under the rainforest canopy, taking in moss-covered scenery, bridges spanning crystal-clear mountain streams, and towering native trees with dappled sunlight filtering through.
At the end of this section, park your bike at the provided rack, switch to walking shoes, and complete the 4 km loop that passes Peters Pool. This enchanting spot, known for its ever-changing moods and often picture-perfect reflections of the glacier and surrounding mountains, was formed by a retreating glacier around 1800 AD, which left behind a kettle lake. Embrace the serene beauty of this unique landscape as you explore.
Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk
Duration: 30 minutes return
Distance: 3km return on the track
Embark on the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, an easy stroll through the rainforest leading to a riverbank viewpoint of the glacier.
Wander amidst lush greenery and cross small creeks as you approach the powerful Waiho River and gaze up the valley.
Due to flood damage, the track is now limited to a 30-minute return walk.
As the glacier perpetually shifts, ice and rock tumble from its terminal face. Accessing the glaciers for viewing has been challenging due to storm events and river erosion in the valley.
On your return, consider taking a right at the junction to tackle the short but steep climb up Sentinel Rock. This well-maintained trail leads to a vantage point offering stunning views of the glacier.
Lake Wombat Walk
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 3.8 km return on the track
Embark on a short and easy walk through a verdant rimu forest to the serene Lake Wombat. Find the trailhead at the carpark located halfway up the glacier valley, accessible from the right side of the road.
Follow the well-maintained, fern-lined trail as it undulates, meanders, and climbs to one of the most tranquil lakes you'll ever encounter. Lake Wombat, a kettle lake, was formed about 9,000 years ago by the melting of a massive ice block left amid glacial debris.
This walk offers excellent bird-watching opportunities, particularly at the lake itself, where melodious birdsong fills the air. On calm days, marvel at the mirror-like reflections of the surrounding rainforest and an ancient tree stump that has been worn down over time to create the perfect seat for soaking in the breathtaking views and energy of this enchanting location.
Roberts Point Track
Duration: 5 hours 20 minutes return
Distance: 11-12.3km return
Level: Challenging, good fitness required
The Roberts Point Track hike offers the best and closest views of Franz Josef Glacier on foot, with a viewing platform and picnic table at the viewpoint – perfect for a packed lunch! This diverse trail begins with an easy, well-maintained path through the rainforest, leading to a swing bridge crossing the Waiho River. Beyond this point, the track becomes slightly more technical but rewards you with fascinating historical features, a floating staircase, waterfalls, and one of New Zealand's longest swing bridges.
We recommend starting your hike early to avoid the afternoon cloud and weather that often rolls in near the mountains. Be cautious, as rain can make the track slippery, resulting in slower progress. As you explore, take a moment to appreciate the guiding pioneers who expertly crafted this trail long ago."
Duration: 8 hours 2or more return
Distance: 17.2km return
Level: Challenging, good fitness required
Tackle the challenging yet rewarding ascent of Alex Knob for unparalleled alpine vantage views of Franz Josef Glacier. This eight-hour tramp features a steady uphill climb with over 1,000m in altitude gain, offering more than just a leisurely walk.
As a tramping track with rough terrain, be prepared to climb over windfalls and keep an eye out for obstacles, such as low-hanging branches. The trail's endless zigzags are softened by the lush forest and captivating bird life, providing excellent opportunities for rest stops.
The sensational view from the summit is well worth the effort; we recommend setting off early in the morning to avoid afternoon cloud cover that may obscure the glacier.
Ōkārito Trig Walk
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes return
Distance: 4.2km return
Level: Challenging, good fitness required
For those short on time, the Okarito Trig walk offers a rewarding experience with panoramic views of the Southern Alps on a clear day. This trail features an extension, but the main path leads to the Okarito Trig and back.
The track crosses a small wetland on a winding boardwalk above rippling swaths of oioi, an endemic New Zealand jointed wire rush. As you ascend, you'll reach a viewing platform overlooking the lagoons and the southern Ōkārito forest, home to New Zealand's rare Rowi kiwi species.
The breathtaking view from the top is well worth the hike! If time permits, consider the Ōkārito Coastal Walk, a delightful 3-hour-30-minute tide-dependent stroll (distance: 9.8 km), for an even more immersive experience.
Nature & Wildlife Guided Tours
Immerse yourself in nature's wonders here in Glacier Country, where untamed landscapes abound. Discover New Zealand's highest mountains, including Aoraki/Mount Cook, the ocean, glaciers, mirror lakes, rivers, farmland, and more. This diverse region offers endless opportunities for exploration, but if time is limited, we've curated a list of the best experiences to maximize your visit. Guided tours provide an efficient way to discover all the stunning sights and experiences Glacier Country has to offer.
We are happy to book the activities below for you at no extra charge.
Franz Josef Wilderness Tours
Franz Josef Wilderness Tours offers a diverse range of guided water and land based activities in connection with Lake Mapourika - our treasure on the wild West Coast, within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They also offer SUP and kayak hire if a self guided mission is more your thing! All summer long, you can swim here and I can show you where to do this at a beautiful bay.
Explore this New Zealand mirror-lake by kayak, SUP or boat on a guided trip, with views of the Southern Alps and glaciers while paddling in the kiwi sanctuary. It is a 'wow' time - being immersed in this environment with its silky reflection water.
Franz Josef Wilderness Tours is a family owned and operated business. Offering kayak tours and rentals, or scenic boat tours and fishing charters on Lake Mapourika.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours
The best thing about having a knowledgeable 'Kiwi' guide when we went to see the glaciers with Glacier Valley Eco Tours, was the immersion in the environment while learning much from the interpretation.
We were regaled with stories and facts about glaciation, geology, local flora & fauna and history of this incredibly dynamic place.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours provide small group informative personalised tours, off the beaten path from the main track (Franz Josef & Fox Glacier).
They also offer private group tours.
Glacier Valley Eco Tours are a family-friendly company, all ages and abilities are well catered for.
White Heron Sanctuary Tours
This is one of our favourites in the area, you don't have to be a birder like me to enjoy it.
This tour consists of an informative minibus ride through private farmland into the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve.
Within the reserve, a short walk takes you through ancient Kahikatea rainforest to the purpose built viewing hide to observe the magnificent White Heron, Kotuku in their natural nesting environment.
The Royal Spoonbill, Kotuku Ngutu Papa and the Little Shag, Kawapaka also share this special area and all can easily be seen from the hide. The White Heron only use this area for breeding so can be seen in the reserve over the spring and summer months, usually mid-September until early March.
Ōkārito Kiwi Tours
Seeing a kiwi in its natural environment is something many locals from New Zealand have never had the opportunity to do, so this is special and unique opportunity.
Walking to find the kiwi habitation, patience is required when listening for kiwi activity.
There is a very good chance that you will hear the birds snuffling for food or generally moving around in the bush. You will hear the bird calling – the very unique sound resonating for miles into the quiet of the night.
Explore by Sky
Embark on an exhilarating aerial adventure and discover the awe-inspiring Franz Josef Glacier and the Southern Alps from a unique perspective. Whether you choose a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, prepare for an unforgettable experience. Take to the skies and witness the glacier's immense beauty unfold beneath you. Soar above the icy expanse, marvel at its ever-changing landscape, and admire the intricate network of crevasses and ice formations. Enjoy a bird's-eye view of the surrounding snow-capped peaks and lush valleys as you glide through the air. Capture breathtaking photos and create lasting memories as you embrace the thrill of flying amidst nature's grandeur. With experienced pilots and state-of-the-art aircraft, Franz Josef is home to an array of excellent air operators ensuring a safe and extraordinary adventure in Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier is a stunning natural wonder, located in the heart of New Zealand's South Island. From its towering peaks to its cascading waterfalls, it's no wonder that this glacier has become one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. And what better way to experience this majestic landscape than from the sky? With a range of helicopter tour options available, visitors can take in the breathtaking views and explore remote glaciers with ease.
For those looking for an introduction to Franz Josef Glacier, a 25-minute scenic flight that takes you over the glacier and surrounding mountains is a great option. You'll be able to admire the magnificent ice formations up close and get a bird's eye view of the region's diverse landscape. Longer options include Glacier exploration with a snow landing and provide spectacular views of Mount Tasman and Mount Cook.
If you're looking for an even more immersive experience, there are tours that take you over three glaciers and include a 15-minute snow landing. You'll also have the chance to spot some of New Zealand's native birds and animals as you soar through the sky!
No matter which tour option you choose, each helicopter ride is sure to be an unforgettable experience. With knowledgeable guides on hand to share their expertise, visitors will learn about the history and culture of Franz Josef Glacier while taking in its stunning beauty from above. So why wait? Get in touch with us if you would like to book a helicopter tour and we will be glad to help.
Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Franz Josef Glacier from a unique perspective with a thrilling fixed-wing plane flight. Soar high above breathtaking landscapes, capturing unparalleled views of the glacier, surrounding mountains, and pristine wilderness. Expert pilots will guide you on an unforgettable aerial adventure, highlighting the region's natural wonders and sharing fascinating insights. With a range of flight options available to suit your preferences and schedule, embark on the ultimate scenic journey to discover the true essence of Franz Josef Glacier from the skies.
Get in touch if this sounds like a bit of you and we will be glad to help plan your tour.
Franz Josef Glacier Cafes, Restaurants & Shopping
Franz Josef Glacier is a charming village nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of New Zealand's West Coast. Its stunning natural setting, complete with towering mountains, ancient glaciers, and lush rainforests, creates a serene backdrop for our bustling little town. Experience the vibrant local cafe and dining scene offering a diverse array of eateries and bars.
For the coffee aficionados, start your day with a visit to Snake Bite, The Wildlife Center or Full Of Beans. And as the day unwinds, head over to the Monsoon bar or again to Snakebite, King Tiger, The Landing, Blue Ice, or Alice May where you can enjoy a selection of great beverages and delicious food.
Franz Josef Glacier also offers a small yet unique shopping experience. Discover handmade crafts that encapsulate the spirit of the region at the Tui Gallery, a wide range of giftware at Ferngrove Gift & Design, Franz Josef Glacier merchandise at the Glacier Base, and further shopping at the Alpine Adventure Center and The Wildlife Center.
At Franz Josef Glacier, every moment is about embracing relaxation, fun, and exploration. Whether it's dining at a local eatery, enjoying a drink with a view, or finding the perfect souvenir.
Our Top Picks
Great White Heron Breeding Colony
The breeding colony of Kotuku (white heron) is located in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve, north of the Okarito Lagoon in Westland, New Zealand. This is the only breeding colony of this endangered bird in the country and access to it is only possible with a guided tour. The average number of eggs laid is three and both parents share incubation duties for 28 days. Usually one or two chicks are raised successfully. During the breeding season, the colony is a hive of activity with Kotuku legs trailing and necks tucked in as they fly around.
Discover Okarito, New Zealand - a hidden gem on the West Coast. Take a kayak or guided tour to explore the largest unmodified estuarine lagoon in the country, home to more than 70 bird species including the beautiful Kotuku (White Heron). Visit the historic Wharf Shed and take a walk up Trig Track for breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. Experience the unique heritage of Okarito with its horse and dray "pack track" through lowland Rimu forest, and explore its beaches and wetlands.
Explore Glacier Country Area through Hiking! Franz Josef Glacier and beyond offers a variety of incredible hikes for all skill levels. From short day hikes to extended backpacking trips, you can experience the beauty of Glacier Countries alpine ecosystems and breathtaking views.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and explore the beauty of Lake Mapourika near Franz Josef. This stunning lake is nestled in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, surrounded by lush rainforest and majestic Southern Alps.
Swim or kayak in the pristine waters of this serene lake, with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Enjoy a peaceful cruise into the sheltered estuaries of the Ōkārito River, where you can spot native birds and other wildlife. With its crystal clear waters and tranquil atmosphere, Lake Mapourika is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
So come and explore this beautiful lake - take in its breathtaking scenery, relax in its peaceful atmosphere, and create memories that will last a lifetime!
Experience the awe-inspiring Franz Josef Glacier through exhilarating ice wall climbs in its upper reaches , take a scenic helicopter flight or join an engaging and relaxed eco-tour to uncover the glacier's natural wonders
Discover the 'Kiwi'
Embark on a unique journey to spot the elusive Okarito Brown Kiwi (Rowi) near Franz Josef Glacier, and experience the wonder of encountering one of New Zealand's rarest and most cherished native birds in its natural habitat with a Kiwi Tour.