The Fox and Franz Josef Glacier are two of only three places in the world where you can view glaciers descending into temperate rainforest and close to the sea. The Glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age. Rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice-hewn rock valleys, they are beautiful and mighty… and are simply a must see.
As part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the glacier region is a recognised World Heritage area for good reason. The park extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, to the rugged and remote beaches of the wild West Coast, South Island New Zealand. It is an area of magnificent rugged vistas – snow-capped mountains, glaciers, forests, tussock grasslands, lakes, rivers, wetlands and beaches.
The Glaciers and Westland National Park are just two of the main attractions on the wild west coast. Wedged between the towering Alps and the crashing sea is Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks/Paparoa National Park, Hokitika Gorge, and of course Haast which is surrounded by national parks and World Heritage areas. Simply breathtaking scenery.
But Franz Josef Glacier village is definitely at the heart of it all. It is a pretty town alongside the fast flowing Waiho River. The village caters well for the wide range of adventure activities close by. Lose yourself in the rainforests, glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes. You are guaranteed plenty of excellent cafes, restaurants and activities. The hard part is deciding on how to fit everything in!
Here are some of the key things to do:
An amazing experience as the only way to touch or hike the glacier is by a short scenic Helicopter flight up the glacier valley. Global warming has seen the glacier retreat and we were told it is likely that the Heli Hikes will only be possible for a further 5 years. Get great views from the helicopter over Westland National Park before you get your crampons on and explore the ice caves and admire the many crevasses which feature across the glacier. Minimum age is 8 years and tour duration 3-4 hours.
Glacier Valley & other local walks:
An alternative for those with younger family members, you can choose a self-guided or guided walk down the valley where the Franz Josef Glacier once stood. A great way to understand the history and retreat of the glacier. The guided walk has a minimum age of 6 years. There are many other fantastic walks in the region including a short 45-minute walk from town centre to the Tartare Tunnels. This is an old gold-mining tunnel with plenty of Glowworms!
For more action consider quad bike rides or skydive. For an awesome perspective of the area catch a scenic flight over the Glaciers & Westland National Park. Relax at the Glacier hot pools in the Rainforest and enjoy the many local restaurants and coffee shops in town. Say hello to the local Kiwi birds at the West Coast Wildlife Centre, and don’t forget a scenic boat/kayak tour or fishing charter.
Haast Pass Scenic Drive:
It took 90+ years to complete this spectacular 142 km stretch of road. The winding route from Wanaka to Haast is not to be reckoned with. The road hugs the towering Southern Alps… look the other way and be rewarded with stunning aquamarine glacial lakes. Wild shorelines and untamed natural wilderness. This dramatic landscape offers a bunch of fun adventure activities: hiking, trout fishing, jetboating – but be sure not to miss the thundering waters of the Gates of Haast.
One of the world’s great train journeys, the Tranzalpine traverses the spectacular Southern Alps and vast Canterbury Plains from coast to coast. The inland journey takes a little over 4 hours and runs daily between Christchurch and Greymouth. A nice way to sit back, relax and soak up the striking scenery as it passes by. A great way to begin your West Coast travels!
Make sure to add Franz Josef Glacier & the West Coast to your wish list for your next New Zealand holiday. I know it is tough to decide where to go…. But this is one area not to be missed. Expect to enjoy a top New Zealand experience!