Franz Josef is known for its stunning natural beauty and glacier tours. The town is surrounded by lush rainforest and home to the Franz Josef Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. There are several walks in Franz Josef that offer you the opportunity to explore this beautiful area on foot. From easy forest walks that give you glimpses of the glacier, to more demanding hikes that gets you closer to the terminal face of the glacier. But also heli hiking is a great way of getting up close to the Franz Josef Glacier! In this complete guide you’ll find the best Franz Josef walks including all the info you need to know about hiking in Franz Josef.
Best time for walks in Franz Josef
Generally the best period for hiking the best walks in Franz Josef is during the summer months from December to February. The weather is most stable and pleasant during these months with the highest chance of clear skies. However, spring and autumn can also be great months for hiking in Franz Josef. But you have to be prepared for a bit more rain and cloud coverage. Also, for the hikes higher up in the mountains such as Alex Knob and Mount Fox Route, you should be prepared for more snow after the winter months.
15 BEST WALKS IN FRANZ JOSEF
Heli hiking in Franz Josef
Heli hiking in Franz Josef is the best and only way to get up close and personal with the glaciers. Its one of the unique and thrilling experiences you can do on the South Island of New Zealand and a bucket list adventure for many. Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier is 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.
You can either go for a 4 hour heli hiking tour or 3 hour heli hiking tour. Or in case you don’t have the time for, or don’t want to go heli hiking but still want to see the glacier from up close, choose this helicopter flight with glacier landing.
Make sure to secure your spot for a heli hike tour in advance because this popular activity sells out quickly!
Lake Matheson walk
The Lake Matheson is one of the stunning walks in Franz Josef which leads you through native forest to a stunning glacier lake. On calm days this lake reflects the views of the Southern Alps which is a spectacular sight. It’s one of the most famous mirror lakes in New Zealand offering breathtaking views. The easy Lake Matheson walk follows a 4.4 km loop trail along the lake’s edge from which you can explore the different perspectives of the lake. There are plenty of photo spots with benches along the track to relax and take in the views.
Lake Matheson walk distance and duration: The 4.4 kilometre lakeside loop track is a short but sweet walk in glacier country. It will take about 1.5 hour to complete the circuit around Lake Matheson. You can also only walk to the jetty viewpoint which is 2.4 kilometer from the car park taking only 45 minutes.
Lake Matheson walk difficulty and incline: With only 133 meters elevation gain during the Lake Matheson walk there’s isn’t much difficulty about this trail. The path is very well maintained and even wheelchair friendly until the Jetty viewpoint.
How to get to Lake Matheson
Lake Matheson is located along the west coast nearby Fox Glacier Township. When you drive on theCook Flat Road you have to take a turn and travel 5 km along this road before you get to Lake Matheson.
There is a huge car park available and a cafe called ‘ Matheson Cafe’ where you can have a coffee or enjoy breakfast or lunch.
Explore Lake Matheson with a nature guide and enjoy pick up and drop off from your hotel in Franz Josef
Roberts Point Track
The Roberts Point Track is a challenging hike in Franz Josef that offers stunning views of the Franz Josef Glacier, Waiho River and the surrounding mountains. The trail is 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) one way and takes about 4-5 hours to complete. Robert Points Track takes you along a reflection pond, waterfall, over swing bridges and through native forest shows you what New Zealand is about.
The trail begins at the car park at the end of the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road. You will then follow the Waiho River which you cross via the Waiho river bridge before ascending through dense rainforest to the viewing platform at Roberts Point. This is actually the closest you can get to Franz Josef Glacier without opting for the Franz Josef heli hike. In our opinion the Roberts Point Track is, together with Alex Knob Track, one of the best walks in Franz Josef. Both these tracks have the best views of Franz Josef Glacier but do need a bit of effort to get to the viewpoints.
Roberts Point Track distance and duration: The total distance of Roberts Point Track is 11.8 kilometers and takes about 4 to 5 hours to complete.
Roberts Point Track difficulty and incline: Roberts Point Track is considered being moderately difficult as the terrain is uneven and can be quite slippery at some parts. The total elevation gain of Roberts Point Track is 600 meters (1,970 feet).
How to get to Roberts Point Track
The trailhead for Roberts Point Track is at Glacier car park which is the same parking as for Franz Josef Glacier walk. It’s only a 10 minute drive from Franz Josef Township following the State Highway 6 towards the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road. The parking lot is very spacious with public toilets. From here the Roberts Point Track trailhead is clearly marked and well-signed.
Another option to start the Roberts Point Track is from Lake Wombat car park. This is where Alex Knob trail also begins. From this trail you will start on the Douglas Walk and merge on the Roberts Point Track which starts at the Douglas Bridge. However from this trail you will miss Peters Pool which is absolutely worth it. More about this later!
Fox Glacier walk
Fox Glacier in Westland Tai Poutini National Park along New Zealand’s West Coast of the South Island is one of the natural wonders of the country you can visit. To explore the glacier from up close there are a few options. You can do the short and free Fox Glacier walk to get a glimpse of the glacier, but you will also find other options to explore the glacier from up close. You can either go heli hiking for example to experience walking on Fox Glacier or book a helicopter tour to see Fox Glacier from an aerial view including a snow landing.
Fox Glacier walk distance and duration: The out and back trail is 6.4 km return via the same track and takes about 2 hours to complete.
Fox Glacier walk difficulty and incline: With only 178 meters of elevation gain the Fox Glacier walk is an easy and very family friendly walk. The wide gravel path is well maintained and there aren’t any challenging parts along the trail.
How to get to Fox Glacier walk
To get to the parking lot of the Fox Glacier South Side Walk you have to follow the Fox Glacier road all the way to the end where you will see the car park. From here the Fox Glacier walk is clearly signed and easy to follow on a wide gravel path along the Fox river.
Peters Pool walk
Peters Pool is one of the stunning short walks in Franz Josef. It’s actually the beginning of Roberts Point Track. But if you can’t hike the complete Roberts Point Track, then only the 500 meters to Peters Pool is absolutely worth it. Especially on a calm day when you are able to see the refections on the mountains in the pool. Fun fact is that Peters Pool was created a few hundred years ago when a huge ice block melted during Franz Josef Glacier’s retreat.
Franz Josef Glacier walk
The Franz Josef Glacier walk is a short walk through native forest taking you to a viewing area from where you can get a glimpse of Franz Josef Glacier. The 1.7 kilometre return track is family friendly and very easy to follow on the well maintained wide gravel path. Unfortunately you can’t get close anymore to the terminal face of the glacier because the Waiho river has cut off access to the Franz Josef Glacier valley during a heavy flood. Nevertheless, it’s one of the great short walks in Franz Josef, but a bit underwhelming if you get to the viewpoint.
Franz Josef Glacier walk distance and duration: The 1.7 km return track can be completed in 30 minutes depending on how long you spend at the viewing area.
Franz Josef Glacier walk difficulty and incline: With only very, very little incline the Franz Josef Glacier walk is an easy walk and can be considered as the easiest Franz Josef walk.
How to get to Franz Josef Glacier walk
The trailhead for Franz Josef Glacier walk is at Glacier car park which is the same parking as for Roberts Point Track. It’s only a 10 minute drive from Franz Josef Township following the State Highway 6 towards the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road. The parking lot is very spacious with public toilets. From here the Franz Josef Glacier walk trailhead is clearly marked and well-signed.
Alex Knob Track
The Alex Knob Track is without a doubt some of the harder walks in Franz Josef. The 17 kilometre out and back trail has an elevation gain of 1,200 meters and is therefore a hard hike. But, the views at the top of Alex Knob Track are breathtaking with unobstructed views of the Franz Josef Glacier. These extraordinary views of one of New Zealand’s Glaciers are otherwise only possible by helicopter tour. So if you’re in for a little hiking adventure and you’re fit enough to complete Alex Knob Trail, then definitely put this one on your list!
Alex Knob Track distance and duration: The 17 km return track can be completed in about 6 – 7 hours depending on how long you spend at the viewing area.
Alex Knob Track difficulty and incline: The Alex Knob Track is considered hard with 1200 meters incline over 17 kilometers. Only do this hike when you are fit and have experience with hiking.
Sentinel Rock Walk
The Sentinel Rock Walk is another one on the list of short walks in Franz Josef. The 600 meters walk to Sentinel Rock viewpoint isn’t much effort but offers great views of Franz Josef Glacier Valley and a glimpse of the glacier itself.
The trail is part of the Franz Josef Glacier Walk, so you can easily combine these two walks together. When getting to the viewpoint of Sentinel Rock you have to look in the distance to see Franz Josef Glacier. It’s actually quite alarming to see that the glacier has shrunk so much in the last couple of years! The information panels show until where the glacier extended in 1950 and the years after. Nowadays, there is not much left of the Glacier view from this viewpoint, which is disappointing and confronting at the same time…
Mount Fox Route
The Mount Fox Route is some of the hardest walks in Franz Josef. Although it is only a 7.1-km out-and-back trail, the 1,162 meters elevation gain make it a challenging climb up to Mount Fox. It will take you anywhere between 5 and 6 hours to complete, without the time counted that you have breaks.
Be prepared for steep sections in the overgrown jungle path and parts where you have to climb with your hands. It’s one of those hikes where the reward of the spectacular view at the end makes the amount of suffering worth it. However, you really only want to do this hike with clear weather because otherwise it will be hard to spot the glacier.
Mount Fox Route distance and duration: The 7.1-km out-and-back trail can be completed in 5 – 6 hours depending on how long you spend at the viewing area.
Mount Fox Route difficulty and incline: The Mount Fox Route is considered hard with 1,162 meters elevation gain over 7 kilometers. Only do this hike when you are fit, have experience with hiking and when the weather is good.
Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut
The Copland Track to is a 7 to 8 hour walk over 18 kilometres (11 miles) one way with 680 m elevation gain. This means you’ll hike 36 kilometers total over two days (11 miles one way/22 miles total over two days).
The trail gradually climbs through Westland’s spectacular forest and takes you along the river and into the mountains. When you get to Welcome Flat Hut there is a very welcoming attraction which are the Hot Pools. Here you can relax and recover after a day of hiking before spending the night in the Hut. Although you don’t face too much elevation on the Copland Track, it is one of the longest walks in Franz Josef and must be planned accordingly for the overnight sleep in Welcome Flat Hut.
Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut distance and duration: 18 kilometres (11 miles) one way with 680 m elevation gain which means you’ll hike 36 kilometers, 22 miles total over two days. It will take you anywhere between 7 to 8 hours of hiking one way.
Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut difficulty and incline: Although you don’t face too much elevation on the Copland Track, it is one of the longest walks in Franz Josef. Therefore it is a moderate to hard hike in terms of distance.
The Terrace Walk is one of the shortest walks in Franz Josef and seems like a ‘normal’ forest trail during the day. But, at night the Terrace Walk turns into a fairytale like forest! Because after sunset you will be able to spot the glow worms that illuminate the tree trunks. The ‘normal’ short forest trail then transforms into a magical scene which you can see while walking along. Highly recommended for a short night time walk. The path is a wide gravel trail, so it’s very well maintained and easy to follow.
Terrace Walk distance and duration: The 940 meters return return walk can take less than an hour depending on how long you spend in the forest observing the glow worms.
Terrace Walk difficulty and incline: The wide gravel path doesn’t have any incline is one of the easiest walks in Franz Josef.
Okarito Trig Lookout Walk
The short but sweet Okarito Trig Walk is a 4 kilometer return walk offering breathtaking panorama views of the snow-capped Southern Alps. You can see Aoraki Mount Cook and Franz Josef Glacier on a clear day, and at the other side you will see three gorgeous beaches and the glistening Okarito lagoon. It’s big contrast of glaciers and snow capped peaks with the Taman Sea and beaches at the other side.
You want to do this hike only on a clear day, because with the Okarito Trig Walk it’s all about the views, and not so much about the hike itself. With 200 meters incline you will have a gentle uphill along the trail that goes through forest and then leads you up to the platform with stunning 360 views.
Okarito Trig Walk distance and duration: The 4 kilometer return walk can be completed in about 2 hours depending on how long you spend at the viewing area.
Okarito Trig Walk difficulty and incline: With only 200 meters incline over 2 kilometer the Okarito Trig Walk is one of the easy walks in Franz Josef.
Callery Gorge Walk
The Callery Gorge Walk reminds us a lot of the Hokitika Gorge Walk with its electric blue water. Surprisingly enough not many people know about this stunning walk in the centre of Franz Josef. It starts at the end of Cowen street and takes you through rainforest towards the Gorge where you’ll have stunning views of the silver gorge walls in contrast with the milky blue water of the river. With only 4.8km return, the Callery Gorge walk is one of the stunning and easy walks in Franz Josef which can’t be missed on your itinerary!
Callery Gorge Walk distance and duration: The 4.8 km return trail takes about 1 – 2 hours to complete.
Callery Gorge Walk difficulty and incline: It’s one of the easier walks in Franz Josef with only 200 meters incline.
Canavans Knob Track
The 3.1 km out-and-back trail of Canavans Knob takes you to the top of Canavans Knob at 249 meters. The gradual incline and pretty views of the sea, glacier, mountains and river flats make it one of the unique walks in Franz Josef. Via the rainforest you will get to the top of a granite outcrop where you will get stunning views of the sea and lowlands at one side, and up the Waiho River to the glacier and Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moana from the other side.
A fun fact is that the granite of Canavans Knob is much older than the schist rocks of the glacier valley. It survived the scraping of glacier ice 9000 years ago so it endured a lot throughout time.
Canavans Knob Track distance and duration: The 3.1 km out-and-back trail takes about 1 – 2 hours to complete.
Canavans Knob Track difficulty and incline: It’s one of the easier walks in Franz Josef with only 100 meters incline.
Tatare Tunnel walk
The Tatare Tunnel walk is another option for one of the glow worm walks in Franz Josef you can do. The Terrace Walk is the other option where you are walking in the forest, but along the Tatare Tunnel walk you will be walking in an old gold mining tunnel! First you will follow an old 4WD road through pristine forest and then the tracks climbs to the old water tunnels. Here you can explore the 400 meter long tunnel, however you will have to bring a torch and raincoat. There might be running water in the tunnel as well which can make your feet wet.
Tatare Tunnel walk distance and duration: 3.6 km return via same track that takes about 1 – 2 hours to complete.
Tatare Tunnel walk difficulty and incline: It’s one of the easier walks in Franz Josef with only 185 meters incline.
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. 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. 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 town
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 then easily visit Franz Josef Glacier, the Glacier Hot Pools and many more attractions near Franz Josef township. 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 best walks in Franz Josef. Make sure to put some of these hikes 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!