Franz Josef is a popular jumping-off point for all the glaciers in the area (there is more than just Franz Josef).Glacier was first explored in 1865. The glacier is about 5km from town, and a 20-minute walk will take you to its face. This area is 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. Be sure not to miss it!
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms will cost between 25-35 NZD per night, while a private double room will be around 75-110 NZD. There are not many hostels in the area, so be sure to book in advance to get the best prices. Free WiFi and free breakfast are generally included. Most hostels also have kitchens for those looking to cook their own meals. For those traveling with a tent there is camping available in the area, however, it is not cheap. For a basic plot without electricity expect to pay almost 50 NZD per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 807 NZD per night for a twin or double bed, though 100-150 NZD per night is more typical. Free WiFi is common but not included everywhere. A few hotels offer free breakfast. Airbnb is limited here. While there are no shared accommodation options available, you can find private rooms for around 105 NZD per night and an entire home or apartment closer to 160 NZD per night.
Average cost of food – Being a small town, your food options will be limited. A typical restaurant meal with cost you about 25 NZD or more. If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend about 65-90 NZD per week. You can find sandwiches around for 8 NZD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs around 11 NZD.
Transportation costs – Franz Josef is a tiny town (there are less than 500 people here) so you can just walk everywhere. Transportation to the glaciers is by tour or by car. Buses run up and down the coast connecting Franz Josef to all major cities. A bus from Christchurch, for example, will cost around 50 NZD. Tickets from Queenstown will cost around the same.
Suggested daily budget – 70-120 NZD / $50-80 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, not going crazy on the glacier activities, and using local transportation.)
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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 in Franz Josef
- Visit Hukawai Glacier Center – The Hukawai Glacier Center features a glacier experience, an audiovisual display about New Zealand’s glaciers, and information on the wildlife, geology, and Maori mythology. There’s even an indoor ice climbing wall. Admission is 15 NZD per person, and 90 minutes of time on the climbing wall costs 90 NZD.
- 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 as part of a heli-hike as you are taken to more remote parts of the glacier, away from the other tour groups. Expect to pay around 450 NZD for a heli-hike.
- 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. If you have the money, do the full-day hike so you get the most of it. The full-day tour will also allow you to explore some of the ice tunnels that are around. Expect to pay around 75 NZD for a glacier walk.
- 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 the lush forest and wilderness. If you don’t want to hike a glacier, this is a good alternative. Excursions start around 135 NZD per person.
- 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. Tours start around 240 NZD per person.
- 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. For a soak and massage, expect to pay around 100 NZD. For just a soak, prices are around 25-30 NZD.
- Do a horseback trail ride – Take a load off your feet and add some extra mileage to your sightseeing via horseback. Trips can be just an hour or a whole day, with prices averaging 65-250 NZD per person.
- 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 quad-ing or mountain biking. Rentals for mountain bikes cost around 20 NZD for a half-day, 40 NZD for a full 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 320 NZD for a 13,000ft jump. For a 19,000ft jump (the highest in New Zealand) expect to pay around 559 NZD per person.
- Visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre – Since it opened in 2010, this wildlife center 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 — 36 NZD for an adult ticket (with discounts available for students, seniors, and children).
- Kayak – On Lake Mapourika you can rent kayaks for 60 NZD, or you can participate in a kayaking tour for 115 NZD 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. For a chartered tour, expect to pay around 125 NZD.
- 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.