Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865. The glacier is about three miles from town, and a 20-minute walk will take you to its terminal face. The town is a popular jumping off point for all the glaciers in the area (there is more than just Franz Josef). This one of the major highlights of the South Island and a great opportunity to walk across a glacier and explore a variety of ice tunnels.
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms will cost between $18-30 USD per night, while private double room will be around $40-50 USD.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at $60 USD per night, but closer to $100 USD is more typical.
Average cost of food – A typical restaurant meal with cost you about $15 USD or more. If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend about $40-67 USD per week. You can find sandwiches around for $5 USD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs between $6-8 USD.
Transportation costs – Franz Josef is a tiny, tiny town. You can just walk it. There is transportation to the glaciers – whether by tour or car. Buses run up and down the coast connecting Franz Josef to all major cities.
Money Saving Tips
Take only a half day tour – If you are on a budget, the half-day glacier trip will satisfy your adventure appetite and your wallet.
Hike by yourself – If you can’t afford one of the guided glacier treks or helicopter rides, you can walk unguided to the terminal face yourself for free and still get some great scenic photos.
Top Things to See and Do
Go heli-hiking – Heli-hiking offers the best of both worlds. You get a scenic flight over the glacier and you also get to hike on the ice. Generally, walking on the glacier is better on the heli-hikes as you get to more remote parts away from the tour groups.
Trek on the glacier – As if you already didn’t know this is the best thing to do here, here is your friendly reminder. If you came all the way to visit, make sure you hike the glacier. Do the full-day hike so you get the most of it and get to explore some of the ice tunnels that are around.
Raft on Whataroa and Perth Rivers – Located north of Franz Josef, these rivers make for a good day trip during the summer. They are popular one-day whitewater rafting spots. They have Class IV & V rapids and are in the middle of lush forest and wilderness. If you don’t want to hike a glacier, this is a good alternative.
Do a helicopter tour – What better way to see the beautiful, national parks than from above? Seeing the glacier from such great heights really gives you a whole new perspective of the area plus, the photos you get are always stunning.
Soak in the Glacier Hot Pools – This series of outdoor thermal baths is a dose of rejuvenation waiting to happen. After all of the intensive glacial hiking you are bound to do, it is great to head here for a soak and maybe even a massage. It’s important to keep your body loose.
Do a horseback trail ride – Take a load off your feet and add some extra mileage to your sightseeing via horseback. Trip run about six hours and tours go along remote beaches and various farm lands.
Go rainforest trekking – Most people don’t realize that this area is home to a beautiful rainforest with tons of trails and paths to explore. All you need is a pack is some water and snacks and wear decent hiking shoes. Be wary of mud and slippery tracks.
Rent mountain bikes – The rainforest area around Franz Josef is also great for either quading or mountain biking. Rentals for mountain bikes cost around $25 USD for a half-day.
Skydive – Imagine jumping out of a plane at 18,000 ft (only a few places in the world offer this elevation), only to see glaciers, mountains, rivers, and rain forest all at once. Franz Josef offers skydiving opportunities starting at around $300 USD.
Visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre – Since it opened in 2010, this wildlife centre has become one of the country’s more popular attractions. You’re guaranteed to see some kiwi birds from their forest boardwalk, and they also have hatching programs for two of the rarest species of kiwis here. Be aware that the site is very pricey – $24 USD for the entrance.
Kayak – On Lake Mapourika, you can rent kayaks for $50 USD, or you can participate in a kayaking tour for $85 USD for three hours. The tour takes you across the lake, past glacial walls, rainforest, and kiwi sanctuaries. Talk about a variation in landscapes!
Go fishing – The mountain lakes in this region offer a variety of good fishing opportunities for anglers. You can find a lot of trout in the slow-moving creeks here.
Walk the Historic Swinging Bridge – On the drive toward the glacier, you can stop at the historic swinging bridge. There’s a nice view of the valley here, and it can be a bit thrilling to walk across such a wobbly structure. A stop here won’t take more than 15 minutes, but it can be a good opportunity to get out and stretch your legs.