A Franz Josef Heli Hike tour is one of the unique and thrilling experiences you can do on the South Island of New Zealand. Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier is a bucket list adventure and only allowed and possible with a guided tour. But there are quite a few different options and tour operators to choose from for your Franz Josef Glacier Heli Hike. So to save you time, we have researched all the different Franz Josef Heli Hike tours and include in this guide the essential information you need to know to make a considered decision. After experiencing the tour ourselves we hereby recommend you the best Franz Josef Heli Hike tours. This guide furthermore includes all other things you need to know such as what to prepare, what to expect, best time for the Franz Josef Heli Hike tour and much more. Make sure to secure your spot for a heli hike tour in advance because this popular activity sells out quickly!
Before we dive into all the details about heli hiking on a glacier and the best Franz Josef Heli Hike tours, let’s first answer the most important question!
Is a Franz Josef heli hike worth it?
Yes totally worth it! A Franz Josef heli hike tour provides a unique opportunity to hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, which is a spectacular natural wonder and a once in a lifetime experience for many people.
The tour includes a helicopter ride from Franz Josef to the top of the glacier where you will explore the ice formations and crevasses with your knowledgeable guide. This provides a truly unforgettable experience and a chance to see the glacier up close in a way that is not possible through other means.
It’s important to note that the Franz Josef Glacier is a constantly changing natural formation and can be affected by weather conditions. Therefore, a Franz Josef heli hike tour is dependent on the weather circumstances. The tour agency you book with will contact you in the morning of your booking to confirm if your tour will depart or that you have to reschedule because of the weather. If your tour gets completely canceled due to poor weather, you’ll be offered a full refund. So you never have to worry that you loose money when booking a Franz Josef heli hike tour.
Can you walk Franz Josef Glacier without a guide?
No, it is not safe or even possible to walk on Franz Josef Glacier without a guide. The glacier is a constantly changing natural environment that can be hazardous. The hidden crevasses, unstable ice formations and other dangers are not always visible to the untrained eye. Therefore you should always listen to your guide when attending the heli hike tour.
To ensure your safety, access to the glacier is strictly controlled and guided tours are mandatory. Everyone who want to visit Franz Josef Glacier from up close must book a heli hike tour with a licensed and experienced operator. They will provide all necessary equipment and guide you safely through the glacier to provide you with an unforgettable experience!
In addition to ensuring safety, guided tours also offer a more informative and educational experience, with knowledgeable guides providing information about the glacier, its history, and its unique environment. This will enhance your experience and provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of this incredible natural wonder.
Therefore, it’s always recommended to book a guided tour with a reputable operator when visiting Franz Josef Glacier to ensure both safety and an enjoyable experience.
The BEST Franz Josef Heli Hike Tours
This tour provided by Franz Josef Glacier Guides is the most popular one and a true bestseller! Therefore you should book your guided heli hike tour in Franz Josef in advance to secure your spot. During this 4 hour tour you can explore the ice with your guide and gain insight into the geological forces at play. The scenic helicopter flight above the Southern Alps with views on Mount Cook is a breathtaking start, but the glacier hike is the true highlight. You will be for 2 hours and 15 minutes on the ice exploring and the group is limited to 11 people to ensure personalized attention from your expert guide.
This 3 hour heli hike adventure is an ideal tour for first-time glacier hikers. During the heli-hike you will explore ice caves and other glacial terrain with your professional guide. The scenic helicopter flight is in an open-plan cabin which offers prime views for all six passengers.
If you’re staying in Queenstown and want to have a day trip to Franz Josef Glacier including hiking on the glacier, then this tour is for you! Enjoy convenient hotel pick-up and drop-off in Queenstown before you board the plane to Franz Josef. This already is an unforgettable experience as you will fly above the Southern Alps with stunning views on Mount Cook. In Franz Josef you board the helicopter which takes you to Franz Josef Glacier. After enjoying the two hour guided glacier hike you will go back to Franz Josef Township. From here you hop in the plane again which brings you back to Queenstown. A worry free heli hiking experience from Queenstown!
Other Franz Josef Glacier Helicopter Flights
If you can’t do a heli hike, then there are luckily many other scenic helicopter flights in Franz Josef which you can book. These tours vary from only a scenic flight above the glacier to a snow landing. This will still give you the opportunity to stand on a glacier, but won’t be as demanding as the glacier hike.
This aerial tour with a helicopter landing on the snowfields of Franz Josef Glacier shows you the best of this incredible landscape in a 40 minute tour. Your professional pilot will provide fascinating commentary while you soar over the Southern Alps and the Murchison Glacier valley. You will see Franz Josef Glacier & Fox Glacier by air before the helicopter will land on the ancient ice of the glaciers. This landing will only be for 10 minutes before you return to the take off place.
Enjoy New Zealand’s stunning landscape from the air during this 30 minute helicopter tour. You will fly over Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier with a short glacier landing. It will give you the opportunity to walk on ancient ice of the glacier but is a shorter stop than above tour.
What do you wear during a Franz Josef heli hike?
When going on a heli hike tour in Franz Josef, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing. This will ensure comfort and safety in the cold and often wet conditions on the glacier. Your tour company will provide you with protective gear including a Gore-tex jacket, trousers, woolen hat, gloves and leather boots with crampons in preparation for your Franz Joseph Glacier tour.
However, it’s always smart to be prepared and some items are not provided. So consider the following items to bring on your heli hike adventure:
- Layered clothing: Dress in layers so you can adjust your temperature as needed. It is recommended to wear two to four warm upper- body layers. Start with a base layer of thermal clothing, then add a fleece or wool layer, and finish with a waterproof and windproof outer layer. Wear quick-drying trousers and avoid jeans.
- Sunglasses: The glare off the snow can be very bright, so bring sunglasses to protect your eyes and improve visibility.
- Sunscreen: Even on cloudy days, the UV rays can be strong at high altitudes, so apply sunscreen to protect your skin.
It’s also important to follow any additional clothing recommendations provided by your tour operator as they may have specific requirements based on the conditions of the day.
How fit do you need to be for a glacier heli hike?
A reasonable level of fitness is required for a glacier heli hike to ensure that you can comfortably navigate the terrain and enjoy the experience. While you don’t need to be an elite athlete, you should be prepared for a moderate level of physical activity and be comfortable hiking on uneven and sometimes slippery terrain.
The exact level of fitness required varies depending on the specific tour and the conditions on the day. Some heli hikes involve more strenuous hiking and climbing, while others are more relaxed and geared towards families or less experienced hikers. Your guide will always carry an ice pick to carve out steps if necessary at certain points on the trip and you have your hiking pole to keep your balance.
If the glacier hike gets a bit too far out of your comfort zone, then you should alway inform you guide so they can go for an alternate route. In total you will be on the ice for about three hours, but that doesn’t mean you will be hiking the whole time. Your guide will allow the group to take plenty of stops for photos and you’ll move at a pace that suits the slowest in the group.
It’s always a good idea to check with your tour operator ahead of time to determine the level of fitness required for the specific tour you have booked. They will be able to provide guidance on what to expect and any preparation you can do beforehand to ensure you are physically prepared.
What to expect during the Franz Josef Heli Hike tour
The Franz Josef Heli Hike is professionally, well organised tour that ensures guests safety. The amazing and worry free experience allows you to explore the stunning natural beauty of the Franz Josef Glacier under guidance of a certified and experienced guide. Here’s what you can expect during the tour:
- Check-in and safety briefing: You’ll check in at the tour operator’s office, where you’ll receive a safety briefing and all necessary equipment including crampons and ice axes.
- Helicopter flight: The tour starts with a scenic helicopter flight to the top of the glacier. Here you’ll land on the ice and meet your experienced guide.
- Glacier exploration: With your guide leading the way, you’ll explore the glacier’s unique environment. You can see the ice formations, crevasses, and ice caves from up close. Your guide will provide insights into the glacier’s history, geology, and ecology.
- Hiking and climbing: You’ll wear crampons to help you navigate the ice, and your guide will lead you on a hike that will take you up and down the glacier’s undulating surface. You may also have the opportunity to climb up ice walls or crevasses, depending on the conditions.
- Scenic views: You’ll have stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys from the glacier’s vantage point.
- Return helicopter flight: After three hours on the glacier, you’ll board the helicopter for a scenic flight back to the tour operator’s office.
The tour typically lasts around three to four hours, and the exact itinerary may vary depending on weather conditions and other factors. Throughout the tour, safety is a top priority, and your guide will provide guidance and support to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots. But for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads.
We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car! The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Where to stay in Franz Josef
Franz Josef is a small but charming town with a range of accommodation options, restaurants, and shops. It has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and is a great base for exploring the surrounding area. You can easily visit Franz Josef Glacier, the Glacier Hot Pools and many more attractions near Franz Josef. Here are the best places to stay in Franz Josef.
We have stayed here ourselves and absolutely loved the self contained chalets. It felt like a ‘home away from home’ with everything you need. A fully equipped kitchen to cook your own meals, comfortable bed, table with chairs for dining, comfortable couch, private parking and a shared laundry. Highly recommended!
Set amongst lush native bush in Franz Josef town is the Rainforest Retreat located. With a range of different accommodations from luxury tree huts to backpackers rooms the Rainforest Retreat has something for every budget. There are 5 bedroom holiday homes and one bedroom cottages. There is also the option to choose for a private hot tub with some tree houses or rooms with bunkbeds. With an on site spa, sauna and restaurant, there is nothing you will miss in this beautiful accommodation.
Centrally located in Franz Josef Village, the Scenic Hotel offers spacious and modern furnished rooms and suites with en suite bathroom. Some rooms have a balcony. You can enjoy breakfast and dinner at the hotel’s restaurant which serves modern New Zealand cuisine and quality wines.
Best tours on the South Island
New Zealand’s South Island is full of adventure, stunning scenery and fun experiences to be made. There are few experiences which are an absolute must when you’re traveling New Zealand’s South Island. Below a summary of the best tours you can book.
An absolute unforgettable experience in New Zealand is a helicopter flight to Franz Josef Glacier including a snow landing. Fly above the ice falls, snowfields, and crevasses before you land in a glacial snowfield. A must do in Franz Josef and absolute once in a lifetime experience!
Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
A Milford Sound scenic flight is the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute helicopter flight you will return to Milford base.
Another way to see Fiordland National Park from above is when you booked the scenic fly-cruise-fly tour from Queenstown. You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Franz Josef heli hike. Make sure to put this awesome experience on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides and read more!