- Not to be confused with Franz Josef Land in the Arctic.
The recent spectacular ice retreat at the Franz Josef Glacier has surprised even the experts and shocked local businesspeople who thought the impressive ice river would be a reliable cash-cow for years to come.
The glacier retreated 800 m in 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 following five years it 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.
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. DoC is also considering reviewing the limit on the number of heli-hikes allowed on the glacier.
- The road north was badly damaged on SH6 in December 2019, road works are still happening but both lanes are open and nearly no delays. The nearby South road bridge on SH6 that badly damaged in March 2019 is fully repaired.
- It's about 30 min from Fox Glacier.
- It's about 3 hr from Greymouth.
- It's 4½ hr from Wanaka.
- It's a 6-hour drive from Christchurch
Tour buses generally make Franz Josef one of their stops, either for the night or at least a lunch break.
Franz Josef Airport is really only suitable for light aircraft. Mount Cook Airport is 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 walk 25 minutes to the terminal face, as the glacier is receding. There are 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. Hire a bike to explore the township at the different pace.
- 1 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. 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
Visit the glacier by foot, independently or with a guided tour. Do not pass the warning barriers at the Glacier. Or take a helicopter flight.
- Franz Josef Glacier walk. A free option to see the base of the glacier and valley with the melted glacial river flowing down it. Track closes during heavy rain. Free.
- Josef Glacier Guides, toll-free: 0800 484 337 (NZ only). 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. Closed as of 25 Sep 2020.
- 1 Glacier Country Helicopters, 10 Main Road, ☏ , toll-free: 0800359375, ✉ email@example.com. Local family owned and operated helicopter company providing scenic flights over the glaciers with snow landings. Flights vary in length (25–45 min) and are suitable for all ages. Also sells a small range of outdoor clothing, accessories and pounamu.
- Air Safaris. Scenic flightseeing tours by plane 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.
- Skydive Franz, Top End, Main Road, toll-free: 0800 458 677. Dawn to dusk. Tandem parachute jumping.
- Glacier Country Kayaks and Lake Tours, 63 Cron St. Kayak tours and rentals, stand-up paddleboards, scenic boat tours, guided walks, fishing charters ☏ .
- Hot pools. Man-made hot pools fed by glacier water. Closed, reopening December 3, 2020. From $28/adult, massages from $85/half hour.
- Waiho Hot Tubs. Private tubs. Set amongst native bush & feels very private despite being in town. Opened September 2020.
- 2 Terrace Walk. A 30-minute walk through the bush, glow worms may be seen at night.
- 3 Tatare Tunnels Walk, Cowan Street. An 80-minute walk to some old water tunnels.
- 4 Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk. Walk along a rocky riverbed to a glacier viewing area. The track is 5.4 km long, and starts 4 km from the centre of Franz Josef (if walking from town, take the Douglas Walk or Lake Wombat Track for the last 2 km).
Lake Mapourika, Lake Tours
- The Glacier Shop, Main Rd (in the Alpine Adventure Centre), ☏ . Wide range of gifts, clothing and souvenirs.
- 1 Blue Ice Cafe, Main Rd, ☏ . 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 (particularly the salmon pesto pizza). Lovely authentic Chinese menu as well.
- Snakebike Brewery, Main Rd
- The Landing Bar & Restaurant, Main Rd.
- Full of Beans Cafe, Main Rd.
- Alice May Restaurant
- The Monsoon Bar & Restaurant, within the Rainforest Retreat 46 Cron St.
- 1 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: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. 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.
- 2 Glenfern Villas, 3 km north of Franz Josef on State Highway 6, ☏ . One- and two-bedroom villas. Warm, comfortable, contemporary apartment-style accommodation.
- 3 Punga Grove Motels and Suites, Cron Street (just off Franz Josef Highway SH6, which runs through the centre of town), ☏ . Motel accommodation in the centre of township.
- 4 Westwood Lodge, State Highway 6 (1 km from the centre of town, accessible by car or by a 15-minute walk along a designated footpath), ☏ . B&B lodge, with great views of the West Coast rainforest and the Alps. The beds are comfortable, and the atmosphere relaxing.
- 5 Top 10 Holiday Park, Franz Josef Highway, 1.5 km north of town. Budget but comfortable option an easy walk north of town - motel rooms, dorms, caravan and campsites.
- 6 Ribbonwood Retreat B&B, Cnr Greens Road & SH6 (6 km north from Franz Joseph: turn onto Greens Road, turn left, first place on right just around corner), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Quality B&B rooms plus a cottage available. Environmentally conscious, great breakfast.
- 7 Holly Homestead, 2900 Franz Josef Highway (1.5 km north, on State Highway 6), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Built in 1926 in "Arts & Crafts" architectural style. B&B accommodation.
- 8 Scenic Hotel Franz Josef Glacier, 36 Main Road (on State Highway 6, on the left-hand side for those coming from the north, well signposted), ☏ , toll-free: 0800 69 69 63, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. $150-400.
- 1 Our Lady of the Alps. Small Catholic church, built in 1951, which may be open for viewing. Mass at 5PM on 1st and 3rd Sunday each month, 5PM on Saturday on other weeks.
- 2 St James Anglican Church. Small church, built in 1931, with a clear main window looking towards the glacier. Services at 5:30PM on 1st and 3rd Sunday each month.
- 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|