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Franz Josef Glacier Walk – Hikers Guide

Last updated : April 29th, 2020

Franz Josef Glacier walk


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We love free activities and the Franz Josef Glacier walk is the best (free) way to view the Franz Josef Glacier. This short but beautiful walk leads to a viewpoint of the Franz Josef Glacier and its the closest you can get without a tour.

This Franz Josef Glacier walk is only one of many trails that lead to viewpoints of the glacier, but being the closest and easiest, it’s a must-do for everyone visiting the lovely town of Franz Josef.

In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Franz Josef Glacier walk as well as a few other hikes near Franz Josef you can do during your visit!


About the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

views of the Franz Josef Glacier walk
The Franz Josef Glacier Walk!
Length:Around 2.5 kilometers each way
Difficulty:Easy
Duration:1.5 hours return
Facilities:Carpark and toilets only
Wheelchair Access: No

The Franz Josef Glacier walk is the best way to view the Franz Josef Glacier without paying for a tour. The walk to the glacier is an easy hike and is around 4km return. The trail is considered a must-do on any South Island itinerary.

The walk takes around 1.5 hours to complete depending on your speed and how long you spend looking at the glacier.

The trail is very well maintained in most places. However, during the Franz Josef Valley hike, you do have to cross two small streams that involve stepping stones in order to stay dry. If you’re not confident with this, it’s best to hike with others.

You cannot camp on the trail nor in the carpark at the trailhead. However, with the Glacier Walk being so close to Franz Josef town, you can simply stay there.


Where does the Franz Josef Glacier walk start from?

The walk starts from the Franz Josef Glacier walk carpark located only 5 minutes by car from the town of Franz Josef. From the town, drive south on Highway 6 until you cross the long one-way bridge, then turn left.

Once there, you can park your car in the large carpark. This carpark is for day use only and you cannot park here overnight. In fact, the carpark is locked at around 10 pm.

You can either drive to the carpark or take a shuttle from town. The company that runs the shuttle is Glacier Shuttle Charter. The cost of the shuttle is $12.50 for a round trip.

If you would prefer to do a guided tour then this Franz Josef Glacier 3.5 hour guided walk is a great option. The benefit of a tour is you’ll learn all about the glacier and the surrounding environment from a knowledgable guide.

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The official sign for the Franz josef glacier walk
The sign at the start of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley walk!

Can I walk from the town of Franz Josef?

The View of the Franz Josef Glacier from the Franz Josef Glacier walk
You can just see the glacier!

Yes. In fact, during my stay, I saw many people walking from the town to the start of the hike. This, however, will add an extra couple of hours to the total hike time.

Another great way to get to the start of the hike if you don’t have transport is to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is considered very safe in New Zealand and it’s most likely you will be picked up by another group of tourists!

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4 Other Awesome Hikes near Franz Josef

1. Alex Knob Track

Length:17.2 km return (via same track)
Difficulty:Hard
Duration:6 – 8 hours

The Alex Knob Trail is an amazing hike that if you have the time you really should consider doing. The trail is long and will take all day to hike, however, the views of the Franz Josef Glacier are spectacular.

The Alex knob trail climbs to over 1,300 meters above sea level and from here you’ll get similar views to a scenic flight!

2. Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike

People hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier as part of a Franz Josef Glacier heli hike tour
If you can, go hiking on the glacier!
Length:N/A
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate – Guided walk
Duration:2 hours on the ice

The main experience most people come to Franz Josef for is the Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike. This unique experience sees you flying high above the Southern Alps before landing on the glacier. From there, your guide will lead you on and through the glacier.

Book your Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike here!

3. Roberts Point Track

Length:12 km return (via same track)
Difficulty:Hard
Duration:4 – 5 hours

The Roberts Point Track is another hike similar to the Alex Knob Track. It climbs high above the valley to give you breathtaking views of the surrounding area and of course, Franz Josef Glacier.

Although shorter, this trail is slightly more challenging that the Alex Knob because of the terrain. For that reason only fit, experienced hikers should attempt this trail.

4. Canavans Knob Walk

Length:3.2 km return (via same track)
Difficulty:Easy
Duration:1 hour

This short hike is a great walk to do before sunset. It climbs to a viewpoint that overlooks the valley. You can’t see Franz Josef Glacier that well from here but it’s still an easy but beautiful hike!


Getting to the Town of Franz Josef

Waterfalls of the Franz Josef Glacier walk
There are lots of amazing waterfalls along the way!

From the town of Greymouth to the north, Franz Josef is a 170km drive, and from Wanaka to the south it is a 285km drive. Both towns are connected by Highway 6.

If you are heading from the south then the road to the glacier carpark will be just before the town of Franz Josef and the opposite if you’re coming from the north. There is a large single-lane bridge at the turnoff so you really can’t miss it!

Buses run from both Greymouth and Wanaka to Franz Josef town.

From Wanaka (or Queenstown) you can catch the Intercity bus at 10:10 am daily and arrive at 4 pm. This bus service costs $43 NZD.

From Greymouth, you can catch the intercity bus at 1:30 pm daily and arrive at 5 pm. This bus service costs $34 NZD.


Accommodation in Franz Josef

The best option to view the glacier is to stay overnight in or around the town of Franz Josef. The glacier is located only a few minute-drive from the town of Franz Josef.

The town of Franz Josef offers all types of accommodation from luxury hotels to budget hostels!

We stayed in a budget hostel called The Glow Worm. The hostel was $25 NZD per night for a 6-bed dorm room. The hostel was good and had free parking. I have no problem recommending it to others for a budget option. Some other great options are:

Low Budget

YHA Franz Joseph – YHA’s are always a great budget hostel option. At the YHA Franz Josef, you find both dorm rooms and privates at a really great price.

Chatua Backpackers and Motel – Chatua Backpackers is the cheapest place in Franz Josef but only by a few dollars, however, this hostel also includes a free breakfast. Rooms range from small shared dorms to private single, double and quadruple rooms.

Franz Joseph Montrose – This hostel is more expensive than both mentioned above however, it has the best ratings on Booking.com. Its location and cleanliness are two of its highest-ranking categories.

A waterfall on the Franz Josef Glacier walk
Another waterfall!

Mid Budget

Rainforest Retreat – The Rainforest Retreat is a beautiful hotel surrounded by nature. Its rooms range from doubles all the way up to there deluxe spa treehouse. The budget rooms here are in the mid-budget hotel range, however, the more expensive rooms are nothing short of luxurious and in the higher budget range!

JAG Escape Franz Alpine Retreat – These guys specialize in luxury double rooms and small, one and two-bedroom chalets and cottages. There cottages and chalets come with private kitchens. Their location is out of town so make sure you have transport if you stay here.

High Budget

Aspen Court Franz Josef – The Aspen Court is the second best-rated hotel in Franz Josef. They specialize in luxury studio apartments for up to 4 people. All rooms come with a kitchenette and some even a spa!

Glenfern Villas – Glenfern Villas is a beautiful hotel that specializes in self-contained villas with fully equipped kitchens. Its location is out of town so its best to have a rental car if you want to stay here.

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What I thought of the Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Bailey jumping in the air on the Franz Josef Glacier valley walk
Fooling around on the trail!

The Franz Josef Glacier walk is an amazing short hike. The hike takes you through some breathtaking landscapes and offers great views of the surrounding area. During the hike, you pass several waterfalls and small streams that only add to the experience.

In recent years, the Franz Josef Glacier has entered a retreating period. This means that the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint that was once at the very foot of the glacier is now around 800m away.

So the views, without taking a guided tour were not all that amazing. This is compared to say 4 years ago when the glacier met the valley floor. So, in my opinion, the Franz Josef Glacier Walk isn’t one of the best things to do in New Zealand but it’s still worth doing!


Things to do in Franz Josef Town

1. Franz Josef Hot Pools

Franz Josef hot pools is the best hot pools in New Zealand
Enjoying the peaceful and relaxing Franz Joseph Hot Pools

The Franz Josef Hot pools are the best quality hot pools we visited during our time in New Zealand. We found them to be very peaceful and clean. We highly recommend visiting the hot pools during your stay!

2. Franz Josef Wildlife Centre

The Franz Josef Wildlife Center is one of the most important wildlife centers for the Kiwi bird in New Zealand. The Kiwis raised here are sent to a predator-free island in the Marlborough Sounds before being released back into the wild near Franz Josef. This is hugely important to the survival of the birds to adulthood.

At the wildlife center, you can see kiwi birds and support a great cause at the same time. This is really a must-do thats benefits the birds the most!

3. Fox Glacier Walk

Fox Glacier is located only 32 kilometers from Franz Josef Glacier. It is a slightly more challenging hike but also well worth doing! On the Fox Glacier walk, you’ll walk through a valley before hiking up a small hill. Here, is when you’ll be greeted with views of yet another glacier!

While you’re in the area, you might as well do both! Both the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier are located along the common West Coast road trip route!


Where to next?

Franz Josef Glacier is just one of the many beautiful stops along New Zealand’s stunning west coast. Some other great places to stop are:

  • Punakaiki – Punakaiki is home to the famous Pancake rock formations. These formations are 30 million years old and are very cool to see. Punakaiki is located around 4 hours north of Franz Josef. Check out our things to do in Punakaiki guide here.
  • The Blue Pools – The Blue Pools is a stunning place to visit on New Zealand’s west coast. It’s famous for its stunning watercolor that literally shines blue. Check out our Blue Pools visitor guide here!
  • Thunder Creek Falls Thunder Creek falls is a very impressive waterfall located near the Blue Pools. Visiting Thunder Creek Falls involves only a short 5 minute walk from the carpark along the main highway and is a very short, but stunning stop on your way south.
  • Wanaka – Wanaka is one of the cutest towns in the lakes district of New Zealand. Its located a few hours south of Franz Josef and is a perfect stop on your way to Queenstown. Some of the best things to do in Wanaka include visiting the Wanaka Lavender farm and hiking Roy’s Peak!

Before you go…

Thanks for reading our guide to the Franz Josef Glacier walk! I hope it helped you plan your trip to Franz Josef and cleared any questions you had.

If you have any further questions or comments then leave them in the comments section below. We are more than happy to help you further!

-Daniel

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About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

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