Franz Josef Glacier is located in Westland National Park approximately half way down the west coast of the South Island and is one of two glaciers located in the World Heritage listed park. Together with its neighbour – the Fox Glacier some 20kms further south – they are unique in both their proximity to the sea and the low altitude at which they terminate.
Most glaciers are located high up in mountainous regions whereas Franz Josef is currently approx 12kms long, is only 19kms from the coast and descends down to less than 300m above sea level making it very accessible. Known as Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere in Maori the glacier was given its European name after Emperor Franz Joseph by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865 and the German spelling has taken permanently.
The glacier itself can be visited via a short walk from a carpark up to a viewing platform of the terminal face. There are guided walks available that take in the terminal face and the surrounding glacier valley or even a guided walk that includes some time up on to the terminal face itself. One of the most unique experiences involves – the glacier heli-hike – is a guided walk on the glacier after a scenic helicopter flight and landing on the higher slopes. This activity includes ice caves, frozen valleys and waterfalls, is very informative and offers breathtaking scenery that cannot be viewed from sea level. All guided walks are complete with full safety briefing and all necessary equipment.
Franz Josef Village
Franz Josef village is the service town for this region and is home to most of the accommodation in this remote part of the West Coast. Perfect as a base from which to explore the glaciers its location is such that one night here will only allow the visitor sufficient time for a quick look at the area. Many of the walks and other activities require a minimum of a half day there so two nights are required for those who wish to spend some time exploring. The naturally heated hot pools are an ideal place to soak at the end of the day.