Franz Josef is a tourist destination. Its prime reason for existence is to serve tourists visiting the Franz Josef Glacier. Located in Westland it lies at the foot of the western slopes of Mount Cook and is in the middle of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The recent spectacular ice retreat at the Franz Josef Glacier has surprised even the experts and shocked local businesspeople who thought the formerly impressive ice river would be a reliable cash-cow for years to come.
The glacier has retreated 800 m in the last five years, prompting suggestions of a road up the valley as the ice disappears from view. Although the South Island's steep, low altitude glaciers have always been dramatic in their advances and retreats, the rapidity of the present retreat is remarkable in geological time scales. Between 1893 and the end of its last big retreat 90 years later, in 1983, Franz Josef Glacier receded about 3 km. Then, between 1983 and 2008, this glacier advanced almost 1.5 km after heavy snowfalls. But in the past five years it has melted almost 820 m.
The retreat began in 2008, and in 2011 the ice thinned by about 70 m behind the glacier terminal. Then, in 2012, a huge hole opened up and guided walks were stopped. Scientists using seismometers detected "ice quakes" - the ground shaking from an ice collapse - as a huge cavity formed beneath the glacier, eventually causing its surface to sink into it.
Tourists had been flown on to the ice by helicopter, but now even this is in jeopardy.
The walk from the car park to the terminal face is now nearly 4 km and many visitors are considering visiting the larger glacier at Fox township instead. In 2011, about 330,000 people visited Franz Josef, and 184,000 went to Fox but if the rapid expansion of the enormous hole does not stop these numbers will quickly reverse.
DoC is considering an emergency plan to build a new road to the rapidly retreating terminal face but The Westland National Park plan and park by-laws may have to be changed so the road can be built. Changing the plan requires public notification and will take at least eight months. DoC is also considering reviewing the limit on the number of heli-hikes allowed on the glacier.
In the last few summer months, ice has continued to collapse into the hole, which is getting bigger daily and will eventually form the new terminus, way back from the present debris-covered terminus.
- It's about 30 min from Fox Glacier.
- It's about 3 hr from Greymouth.
- It's 4.5 hr from Wanaka.
- It's a six hour drive from Christchurch
Tour buses generally make Franz Josef one of their stops, either for the night or at least a lunch break. Alternatively, for a really cheap option, try nakedbus.com - bus services start at $1.
Franz Josef Airport is really only suitable for light aircraft. Mind you, Mount Cook Airport is just on the other of the mountains, and a scenic flightseeing trip can often be arranged at short notice.
While you can take your car to the car park at the foot of the glacier, you will need to get out and face a long walk to the terminal face, as the Glacier is receding at present. There are a number of walking tracks in the glacier valley. Please take heed of the warning signs as you get close to the glacier terminal face.
If you prefer to do things the easy way, try flightseeing, either in a plane or helicopter.
- Franz Josef Glacier
The 11 km long Franz Josef Glacier is one of New Zealand's most spectacular natural attractions, a remnant from the Ice Age which is one of South Westland's major drawcards for visitors.
The Glacier area (which also includes Fox Glacier) attracts up to 550,000 tourists every year - most of them taking the opportunity to view the glacier close up by taking a walking tour or getting the big picture from the sky by helicopter.
The flow rate is about 10 times that of typical glaciers. From a long term perspective, the glacier has retreated since the last ice age, and it is believed that it reached the sea some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Currently the glacier ends about 17 km from the Tasman Sea and the West Coast of the South Island.
Being a slow moving frozen river, the stunning glacial landscape changes daily, and all safety warnings should be taken seriously.
Visit the Glacier
- Take an unguided trip. Do not pass the warning barriers at the Glacier.
- Take a guided trip.
- Take a helicopter flight.
Franz Josef Glacier Guides offer a range of trips taking visitors up on the majestic Franz Josef Glacier. From Valley Walks, half and full day options to ice climbing and heli hiking, there is a trip to suit every ability. Franz Josef Glacier Guides is the only operator permitted to guide on the Franz Josef Glacier. Bookings are essential - either through www.franzjosefglacier.com or 0800 GUIDES (NZ only)
Air Safaris provide scenic flightseeing tours flying from Franz Josef. The Grand Traverse scenic flight from here offers an incredible view of the mighty Franz and Fox Glacier and rugged Westland National Park before traversing Mount Cook and the main divide to explore the vast Mount Cook National Park.
Rivers Wild, ☎ , toll-free: 0800-GO-WILD. 20 minutes north of Franz Josef are two of the best one-day whitewater rafting runs anywhere on the planet on the Whataroa & Perth Rivers. Total wilderness experience, awesome Class IV & V rapids, and stunning scenery. Accessible by helicopter only.
- Enjoy relaxing in the newly built hot pools fed with pure glacier water. You can also book a massage after a long day exploring the Glacier. Prices for the pools start from $23.00 per adult, and massages from $85.00 for a half hour. Find out more here http://www.glacierhotpools.com/
The Glacier Shop in the Alpine Adventure Centre on the Main Rd of Franz Josef (+64 3 752-0131) offers a wide range of quality gifts, clothing and souvenirs. You may also be interested in visiting their other store, The Hobnail Shop in the Fox Glacier Guiding Building, Main Road, Fox Glacier.
Skydive Franz, Top End, Main road, Franz Josef, toll-free: 0800 458 677. Dawn to Dusk. Skydive Franz offers potentially the best skydiving experience available in the world. What better way to enjoy this wonderful place than to free fall though the sky and float gracefully to the ground using the world’s most modern, safest and most comfortable tandem parachute systems available. $295.
At the Blue Ice Cafe, and enjoy the music upstairs after your meal. Licensed till 3AM, has DJs in house through the tourist season and has rave reviews for the Lamb Shanks, Whitebait and Pizza.
YHA Franz Josef (Franz Josef Youth Hostel), 2-4 Cron St (at the south end of town, on Cron St, parallel to the main highway), ☎ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. High quality hostel with dorm rooms and private rooms (with both shared and en suite bathrooms). Has a sauna, great views, and a stone fireplace.
Glenfern Villas (Franz Josef luxury accommodation), State Highway 6 (Just a few kilometres north of the township), ☎ . Glenfern Villas offers luxurious one and two bedroom villas, ideal for discerning travellers to use as a base for adventuring to the Glacier, jetboating, relaxing in the hotpools, hiking and just immersing yourself in the wonderful wild West Coast atmosphere. Glenfern Villas provide warm, comfortable, contemporary apartment style accommodation in Franz Josef Glacier,and your hosts add that extra touch of outstanding service and attention to detail.
Punga Grove Motels and Suites (accommodation Franz Josef Glacier), Cron Street, Franz Josef (just off Franz Josef Highway SH6, which runs through the centre of town), ☎ . Punga Grove Motels and Suites provide travellers with stylish motel accommodation right in the centre of Franz Josef Glacier township, so it is a very short walk from your base to the restaurants, cafes, shopping and tour services taking visitors up the Glacier. Superbly positioned in beautiful West Coast native rainforest,against a stunning backdrop of South Island peaks, Punga Grove offers high quality (4 star plus), beautifully appointed accommodation in one of the world's most spectacular regions.
Westwood Lodge (Franz Josef bed & breakfast), State Highway 6 (1km from the bustling centre of town and easily accessible by car (with plenty of parking available) or by a pleasant 15 minute walk along a designated footpath), ☎ . This luxurious bed and breakfast lodge is the ideal place to unwind and explore Franz Josef Glacier, with great views of the West Coast rainforest and the Alps. You are only a few minutes drive away from the Glacier, the beds are comfortable, atmosphere relaxing and the service is superb. Use Westwood Lodge as your base to explore the fascinating Glacier region.
- Ross – to the north
- Fox Glacier – the bigger and least crowded glacier, just down the road to the south
|Routes through Franz Josef|
|Hokitika ← Ross ←||N S||→ Fox Glacier → Wanaka|