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Franz Josef Area Guide

Franz Josef Glacier from Sentinel
Rock lookout - ©
Franz Josef is one of those New Zealand towns where life is defined by the surrounding nature. In this case, the natural feature in question is the nearby glacier that also bears the name of the famous Hapsburg emperor.

This glacier has carved a place for itself in geological history through its relatively rapid movement (up to a metre a day) and its tendency to thumb a cold nose in the face of global climate trends. It's expanding out towards the sea at the time of writing.

The icy behemoth is a gift for tourists, since its face is almost at sea level and extremely near the coast. So even the more fragile visitor has the opportunity to get up close to this natural wonder without over-exerting themselves. You can already see the glacier from the town, and the main access road and walks are just a couple of miles south of the center.

Having said that, be sure to pop into the visitor centre to get information on weather and walk conditions. There are relatively easy walks to good viewing points, but those wishing to get within touching distance need to be aware of the challenges and even dangers of the local bush, river and mountain landscape.

Franz Josef itself acts as butler to the glacial master, providing relevant supplies and services for those wishing to experience glacier country. Larger than Fox (the other glacier town), it's home to numerous tour offices offering walks, drives, rides, climbing expeditions and scenic flights.

There is plenty of accommodation suited to all needs, and the more casual visitor can get a decent meal at local cafes and restaurants before driving on further south or north.

There's even a glacial experience open to those unwilling to try the real thing. The Hukawai Glacier Experience at the northern end of the town has a simulated glacier walkway and an ice wall for you to practice climbing on.