A trip to New Zealand is not complete without witnessing the expansive natural wonders of the west coast. Neverending coastlines stretching from the coastal paradise of Abel Tasman in the North to the glacier-carved Fjordland in the South, this is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Halfway down Highway 6 lies Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Beginning their journey high in the the mountains, these colossal marvels carve some of New Zealand’s most well-known landscapes such as Milford Sound. These two glaciers are the only place in the world where you can witness shifting ice melting into the rainforest. Nowhere else do glaciers come so close to the coast. Both of these natural wonders have a village close by as well as budget and hotel accommodations. Hikes of varying difficulty and duration can be found near the glaciers.
I hiked the Glacier walks at Fox and Franz Josef and did a 5 hour hike to Roberts Point for a view of Franz Josef.
The question remains, which glacier is more worth the visit? There are a multitude of factors to consider when deciding which trek to take.
Franz Josef Glacier
Accessibility: The car park is 5 minutes drive or 40 minute walk from the town of Franz Josef. There is a return shuttle bus service that departs from your accommodation in town every 2 hours to the glacier car park. Self-guided and guided hikes are available for a more in-depth understanding of this history of this natural wonder. Helicopter rides are a popular way and beautiful perspective to see the glacier. Get information from the iSite in town, ask your accommodation for company recommendations, or stroll down the Main Street to check out many companies offered.
The hike: 1.5 hours return. The trail is relatively flat, wide, and easily walkable with very few rocks or roots on the trail. You will hear helicopters flying by about every hour as this is a very popular to see the glacier, as well as the only safe way to reach it on foot. Along the walk there are several lookout points and sign posts marking the receding glacier through the years. The walk lines a riverbed as well as enormous waterfalls cascading down the cliffs close to the path. The lot was almost full at 10am on the weekday I visited so be sure to arrive before 8am for a quieter experience.
Proximity: The view from the glacier viewpoint is beautiful however you are not close enough to see all that much. You can take beautiful photos from this lookout point but the Fox Glacier lookout is much closer to the glacier itself.
Local accommodation: There are a range of budget and hotel accommodation options in Franz Josef as well as a variety of restaurant choices. Most accommodations are within walking distance to the village.
Satisfaction rating: 7/10. Hike was moderate, ‘wow factor’ was mediocre, although if you are driving along the coast and have the time, this site is not to be missed.
Accessibility: The glacier access parking lot is 5 minute drive or 20 minute walk (2km) South along Highway 6 from ‘town’ (a small row of cafés and a small convenient store). You can also view Fox Glacier with a guided hike by helicopter or from the air by skydiving.
The hike: 50 minutes return. Shorter than Franz Josef, the rolling hills are not extensive but they can get relatively steep. The walk crosses a river bed that might get your shoes wet; the rocks are a bit unstable and the path is not clearly defined across the river. There are minimal lookout points during the hike however there are no trees to obscure the view. The track is wide, easily walkable, and open. You will constantly be looking behind you at the grandeur of this valley. Sharply defined cliffs to the right and huge red and green boulders scattered at the base of the cliffs to the left.
Proximity: On the glacier walking track from the car park you can get much closer to Fox than Franz Josef, earning more of a ‘wow factor’ when you reach the top.
Local accommodation: There are less accommodation options in Fox, but hostels are relatively similar in amenities and price compared to Franz Josef.
Satisfaction rating: 10/10. Completely gorgeous! Truly one of the most unexpected glorious views I have ever experienced. The hike is a bit more challenging than Franz Josef and you can get a bit closer to this glacier. These views took my breath away. The mountains and cliffs are massive on either side of the path and river bed.
Don’t stress. It’s easy to see both glaciers as long as you leave time in your itinerary: if you’re staying at Franz Josef Glacier, you have two of New Zealand’s most incredible glaciers just 25 minutes apart, so be sure to experience one of them!