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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 26 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield

Along with nearby Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier is the main tourism draw card on the wild and pristine West Coast.

These wonders of nature mesmerize from afar with their sheer size and beauty, and delight close up with magical ice caves and tunnels, filled with spectacular ice formations. A magnet, then, for our door enthusiasts.

Due to the combination of the temperate zone and high rainfall, the two glaciers are unique in the world in existing at low altitudes – making them easier to access.

Twelve-kilometre-long Franz Josef Glacier, the steeper and more dramatic of the two, descends from over 3,000m into the lush rainforest of the Westland’s National Park. Using a fleet of helicopters, visitors can take scenic flights from the nearby township, or be dropped onto the ice for exhilarating hikes, which also include exploring ice caves and other natural formations.

One of the best places in the world to get up close to a glacier, all with a constant backdrop of snow-covered mountains. Unmissable.

Logistics

Price from: £300
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: 4 hours

Getting there & doing it

Franz Josef is a five-hour drive from Queenstown, and two hours from Greymouth. There are coach services, but self-drive is best.

The only way to hike on the glacier is by taking a guided helicopter excursion; trips last around four hours, which includes around 2.5 hours on the ice. Moderate fitness is required, and a minimum age of 10. All equipment is provided.

Helicopter flights are available by Helicopter Line, New Zealand’s leading helicopter company. You can opt for flying over just Franz Josef (20 mins), or both glaciers in one flight (30 mins).

Guided hikes are only available through local specialist Franz Josef Glacier. The price includes the helicopter flight with Helicopter Line.

When to do it

While Franz Josef is a year-round destination, the weather is notoriously changeable. Helicopter tours and hiking on the glacier are weather dependent, and access roads may be impassable in winter.

Hiking tours run several times a day during summer months. Helicopter flights operate throughout the day.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Heli Hike Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Heli Hike Fox Glacier
The fly-in, fly-out helihike combines the excitement of walking on the Fox Glacier with the thrill of helicopter flights. By flying in you are able to access and explore a part of the glacier where its forces work hardest and often create spectacular ice caves and arches. Each departure is a true voyage of exploration. There are so many changing features that the guides always find something new. Weather permitting; ice time is up to 3 hours.

Price: N673

Min age: 9

Rating 4.87 / 5 [455 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Fox and Franz Josef Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight from Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Fox and Franz Josef Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight from Fox Glacier
Twice the ice! Explore the glacial icefalls of not one but two glaciers - Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier on this 30-minute helicopter flight from Fox Glacier. Discover up close their neve and unusual ice formations. Landing on the snowfields is a highlight and will make for superb photos, snowballs and memories.

Price: N434

Min age: 0

Rating 4.44 / 5 [25 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Helicopter Tour Including Glacier Landing from Queenstown

Queenstown

Helicopter Tour Including Glacier Landing from Queenstown
Allow 1 hour Our Glacier Explorer excursion departs from Queenstown to take you high above the Wakatipu basin to show off all the surrounding beauty. You will then head on a scenic journey towards an ancient glacier which constantly moves under its own weight. On arrival, the helicopter will shut down on the landing to allow you to enjoy the peace and quiet. Hear the creaking of the glacier, feel the white ice crunch beneath your feet, peer into pure blue crevasses and absorb the stunning scenery of this magical place.  Learn of the glacial recession and monitoring of this permanently frozen world. Your helicopter will then lift off to bring you back on a scenic flight covering more of the Queenstown area including the main surrounding mountain ranges, Queenstown township and the long thin Z -shaped glacial formed lake known as Lake Wakatipu.

Price: N1,190

Min age: 0

Rating 4.80 / 5 [21 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight departing Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Twin Glacier Helicopter Flight departing Fox Glacier
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are two of New Zealand largest glaciers. From above you can view and appreciate the incredible natural phenomenon, towering ice formations and vast size of the glaciers. Top it off with a snow landing and standing on the ancient ice of the glaciers. You’ll also fly over the Tasman Glacier on the eastern side of the Southern Alps and close to Mount Cook/Aoraki, New Zealand’s highest peak.

Price: N434

Min age: 0

Rating 4.65 / 5 [20 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Fox Glacier Mountain Scenic Helicopter Flight

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier Mountain Scenic Helicopter Flight
This premier 40-minute helicopter tour lets you experience two of New Zealand's finest National Parks, divided by the imposing Southern Alps. Discover the gigantic expanse of the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier snowfields with a landing at around 2134 meters (7000 feet). Step out of the helicopter and experience how it feels to walk on snow. Then follow the Main Divide for fantastic views of the Tasman Glacier and Aoraki (Mount Cook) before heading back down towards the lush rainforests at the edge of the Tasman Sea.

Price: N592

Min age: 0

Rating 4.43 / 5 [16 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

1

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

New Zealand’s South Island

South Islands, New Zealand

New Zealand’s South Island

A primordial playground with truly spectacular scenery on the grandest scale, outdoor adventure activities galore, colourful and compelling Maori culture and terribly nice Kiwis.