Franz Josef is the northern gateway to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage area. It is an almost continuous stretch of wilderness where the impact of humans is confined to a few small settlements and the narrow strip of the main highway. World Heritage status means this part of New Zealand has been recognised as being among the world’s foremost natural landscapes.
Stretching an epic 12 kilometres in length towards the Tasman Sea, the Franz Josef Glacier is the only glacier in the world to descend to less than 300metres above sea level. The low level means the frozen river is often surrounded by lush rainforests and a temperate climate.
First spotted in 1642 by the adventurer and oceanographer, Abel Tasman, the Franz Josef Glacier was first traversed by Julius von Haast in 1865, who later named the phenomenon after the former Austrian emperor.
That said, the Glacier was already well-known to the local Maori who called it: Ka Rouimata o Hine Hinehukatere (The Tears of Hinehukatere). Legend has it that Hinehukatere and her love, Tawe, were mountain climbing one day when an avalanche swept over them, killing Tawe. A distraught Hinehukatere chose to stay on the mountain and her tears were said to have formed the Franz Josef Glacier.
With so much to do in the local region, your Kiwi Experience Driver Guides have factored in a free day so you can experience it all.
Additionally, Helicopter Line run spectacular heli-tours over both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers ($300NZD pp).* The 30-minute heli-tour will give you a supreme bird’s eye view of the frozen rivers and will even make a strategic landing on one of them for a photo opportunity.Start off you stay at Franz Josef by getting up close and personal with the huge frozen river. Franz Josef Glacier Guides offer the epic, 3-hour Ice Explorer tour that involves a heli-ride to the Glacier where your guide will navigate you through the maze of ice and explain the dramatic environmental changes that have occurred over the last few years. Be sure to come prepared for walking on the Glacier. Wear two or three layers on the upper body and a pair of water resistant pants or shorts. The tour also includes free entry to the famous Glacier Hot Pools.
However, if you prefer to keep your legs firmly planted on terra firma, South Westland Horse Treks offer a breathtaking two-hour horse riding tour that takes you to one of the best views of the Franz Josef Glacier from the town ($99NZD).* The horse rides are suitable for all levels of experience and allow you to really connect with the region’s pristine beauty.
FOX GLACIER - TE MOEKA O TUAWE
Just south of the Franz Josef Glacier is the equally impressive Fox Glacier. Named in 1872 after Sir William Fox, the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Fox Glacier offers a unique trekking experience for intrepid adventurers. Tours with Fox Glacier Guiding include Full-Day treks ($173NZD) as well as ice climbing adventures with an expert guide.*
Be sure to listen to your guides when trekking on any glacial ice as conditions can suddenly change.