Glaciers in New Zealand? We need to go! That’s what we thought when we first started planning our road trip. If you’re thinking alike, New Zealand’s Glacier Country is clearly a must-do on any visit to the South Island and its West coast.
Home to two of the most famous glaciers – Franz Josef and Fox, Glacier Country is an area of outstanding beauty. The glaciers descend from the peaks of the Southern Alps through rainforest and end almost at sea level. Besides its beauty, these glaciers are very popular because they are easily accessible. And it’s not only about glaciers, there are some nice lakes and countless walking and hiking trails.
New Zealand’s Glacier Country is part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site.
Discovering Glacier Country
Prior to this trip, we had never seen a glacier, let alone set foot on one! So, we were obviously excited to be heading there. Our goal was clear, we wanted to try and see both glaciers and choose one to do a guided hike, as well as exploring the surrounding area.
To have time for this, we based ourselves for two nights in the small town of Franz Josef, which is very close to Franz Josef glacier and only a 25 min drive away from Fox town and glacier.
At the time and after looking into the best glacier to do the hike, we decided to go for Fox glacier due to the cost of the activity. Franz Josef glacier required a helicopter ride further up the glacier in order to do the hike, which made the cost go up considerably. Nowadays, it seems the same is happening with Fox glacier.
This area gets a good amount of rain and clouds. During our stay it barely rained, but it was mostly cloudy with some mist. It gets cold up in the glacier, so dress appropriately!
Franz Josef Glacier
On the first day, since we had planned to do the glacier hike at Fox glacier, we drove to Franz Josef glacier car park and did two short hikes starting from there.
The first and main one is in the glacier valley. This is the recommended hike to see the Franz Josef’s terminal face from a very close distance. It’s about 5 km return, mostly through rocky terrain alongside the Waiho river.
The landscape is very inspiring! We were lucky to be pretty much by ourselves and take it all in.
Once we got closer to the glacier, we could finally see its power. Very impressive. Massive chunks of ice slowly moving alongside the mountain edges. We had finally seen a glacier!
There’s a barrier to control how close people can get. Don’t pass it as it’s quite dangerous!
A quick fact: Franz Josef glacier is 12 km long. And we could only spot a tiny bit of it.
Turning back, we could see the wide open valley and the river fed by the glacier.
Our second hike was a shorter one. Again starting from the car park, we headed towards Peter’s pool, which perfectly and beautifully reflects the mountain background, even on a not so bright day.
We kept going a while longer until we reached the swing bridge over Waiho river. We crossed back and forth and returned to the car.
On the next day, we woke up early and drove to Fox town, where our guided glacier hike with Fox Guides would start. They provide the equipment you need, boots, socks, crampons, ice axe and even a waterproof jacket.
After a short bus ride to the glacier car park, we embarked on a 45-minute hilly hike up to where the ice starts. The guide explained all about how glaciers work and the safety procedures before we could actually start walking on ice.
Seeing the glacier and even better, being ON the glacier, was a really cool experience (pun intended!).
We walked around on a man-made ice path that had steps and even a small cave. Unfortunately, the time on ice wasn’t that long but we had time to “pose” for a photo with a nice and big ice block behind us.
After a somewhat cold experience, we went back to Franz Josef town and straight into a hot pool for an hour of relaxation! It seems that there are hot pools everywhere in New Zealand, and we surely tried quite a few.
The best way to end the highlights of New Zealand’s Glacier Country is to talk a bit about lakes. We ran into so many spectacular lakes in New Zealand and this part of the country was no exception.
Lake Mapourika is North of Franz Josef and its dark water and perfect reflections are great for photos. To get this view, no walking is necessary as you can park right there.
Lake Matheson is a quick drive away from Fox glacier town. It requires a short walk to reach the lake from the car park and cafe area. Speaking about yet another reflecting lake, this one is totally worth visiting. On a clear day, Mount Cook can be seen from here. We only had this view..!
Visiting the glaciers is very popular these days and most people will only stay one night and then continue their journey. We felt that after making such a long drive around the west coast this area would require at least two nights, and we’re very glad we did it!
Have you been to New Zealand’s Glacier Country? What about on a glacier?
Great Post! What Beautiful pictures
Thank you, Arvinder. Glad you enjoyed it
Gordon has spent some time in New Zealand’s Glacier Country and agrees that you need a bit of time to experience it. Love your photos, and nice one of you guys.
Thank you, Paula! Having time there was definitely important to fully enjoy it.
Haven’t been to NZ yet but would love to go hiking in places like this! A different kind of experience (man-made ice path?) and beautiful scenery to boot!
In some parts of the glacier they create small steps to make it easier for unexperienced ice walkers.
Never heard of any glacier or ice in New Zealand. I thought it is just a hot sunny country 🙂 OMG how dump I was… 🙂 Thanks for this article and great pictures!
Thanks 🙂 It gets quite chilly there. And they have a few more glaciers as well, not just these two.
Wow that looks breathtaking. Great post!
Thank you, Claire.
I only visited a glacier in Iceland and it was spectacular! I’ve heard so much about glacier in New Zealand, you just proved with your post how amazing they are that I really want to go there! Hopefully one day!
We’ve been to glaciers in Iceland too, but this was prior to that. Always a great experience visiting and walking on a glacier.
You should definitely go!
New Zealand is such a magical country!
A visit the glaciers are on the top of my bucket list, not sure if we will be able to do next year. But will keep your post bookmarked, great tips!
Magical is the right word. It’s a country we wouldn’t mind to go back to. Perhaps even living there.
I’ve just tweeted about New Zealand outdoor activities today. Hiking the Franz Josef glacier was one of my favourite things to do. Its stunning and elemental. Great photos here. Your post takes me back to that trip, thanks for sharing
Oh, cool! How good was the helicopter ride? The views must be amazing.
What’s the link so we can take a look?
I didn’t do a helicopter ride, we hiking up and down on the glacier. No easy way in or out for us! I haven’t written a post (it was 9 years ago) but I’ll do a throwback post and send the link
Back then the glacier was still in one piece. Cool, looking forward to that!
I love the colours of the ice, with the blues mixing in with the white 🙂
The ice is beautiful 🙂
Love this part of the world. We were there about this time last year and absolutely fell in love with Lake Matheson. The weather was perfect the morning we were at the lake and the views incredible. One thing we didn’t get to do was actually walk on the glaciers. We just didn’t have the money for it at the time. We are heading back to NZ early next year and this time we might just make it up on the glacier.
So do we! Lake reflections in NZ are amazing and Lake Matheson is no exception. Indeed, It can get a bit on the expensive side. Maybe next year then.
Wish we could go back one more time.