Franz Josef is a "cool" wee town set in the rainforest with a few cozy bars, cafes, cinema and hot pools, near the base of the Franz Josef Glacier. The name Franz Josef was given to the glacier by the geologist Julius von Haast to honour the emperor of his native Austria.
According to Maori legend, the glacier is actually the frozen tears of a maiden called Hinehukatere, who was crying for the one she loved. She made her man (Tane) climb the mountains with her but unfortunately near the top he slipped and fell to his death. Hinehukatere was heart broken and with her crying at such a high altitude her tears turned to ice and formed the glacier we all see today.
Vibe: A tourist hub with a Jurassic Park like vibe thanks to the ancient rainforest, verdant, dense native bush and dewy air.
Known for: The Franz Josef Glacier which is 12 kilometres long and is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world with growth of as much as 1.5 metres a day.
Must Do: Explore the Glacier! Whether that be by hiking to view it, walking on it, or taking a helicopter over the top!
Things to see and do
Glacier Guides - Glacier Heli Hike
This is one of the most popular ways to explore the glacier with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. You'll take a short helicopter ride from the town up to the pinnacles area of the glacier where you'll get to walk on the glacier with some flash shoes with steel grips and explore the maze of ice with a knowledgable guide who can tell you all about how the glacier was formed.
Glacier View Point Walk
This is a great free option for seeing the glacier and might be your only option if the weather is not clear enough to take a helicopter ride. Catch a shuttle from the town to the start of the track (unless you fancy walking an extra 5kms each way). The track to the terminal face (where you can see the last part of the glacier) is about 45mins return and some parts are loose stones/rock so you will need a good pair of shoes. You won't be able to access the ice but you'll be able to get a good look at it. The Sentinel Rock Walk and Peter's Pool track also start from the carpark.
Helicopter over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
If you'd like to see both the Franz Josef Glacier and the Fox Glacier, as well as Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, you can see it all on a short helicopter ride from Franz Josef town. Some helicopter packages include a touch down on the snow, others include just the flight - there are various packages available.
Glacier Hot Pools
Relaxing in the Glacier Hot Pools is the perfect way to end the day. There are three pools of varying temperatures set in gorgeous native bush which adds to the relaxing atmosphere. If you've booked one of the tours run by Franz Josef Glacier Guides, you'll get access to the Glacier Hot Pools for free otherwise you can pay at the entrance.
If it's cold and wet outside the Alpine cinema is a cozy place to spend a few hours. Times and showings change daily and they screen a range of feature films as well as documentaries. You can even book out the whole cinema to play Playstation 4 on the big screen with your friends!
Meet a Kiwi
The West Coast Wildlife Centre is based in Franz Josef township. You can walk through a natural-looking dark bush area and see if you can spot the Rowi Kiwi, one of the most endangered types of kiwi. You can learn about the kiwi conservation programme and a bit more about the glacier too.
Eating and Drinking
For a little town, Franz Josef actually has quite a few decent restaurants, pubs, cafes and bakeries. The Monsoon Bar inside the Rainforest Retreat has a great party vibe or the Landing Bar on the main street is a nice place to have a few drinks with dinner. The Picnics bakery is a local favourite with delicious sweet and savoury pastries on offer - try the Nutella filled donuts for a real treat!
Get to Franz Josef!
Franz Josef is one of the most talked about Stray stops and there’s no secret as to why. It’s the land where glaciers meet the rainforest and it's heli-hike has become the ultimate Franz Josef icon. Don't be fooled though - there are plenty of other incredible things to see and do in this West Coast town!
Your opportunity to visit our world renowned glacier, before it disappears.
A unique kayak adventure, just minutes from Franz Josef Glacier with panoramic views of the tallest peaks and Glaciers in NZ!
Choose from either a 1 hour, 2 hour or 3 hour horse trek through glacier country. You'll ...
Fly over two of New Zealand's most famous glaciers; the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. View ...
Walk through native rainforest, with beautiful views, a historic bridge and interesting relics from the gold mining era.
Peter's Pool was formed from the ice that melted from the glacier and on a clear, calm day the glacier valley and mountains are reflected in the water.
This short walk to Sentinel rock viewpoint offer great views of the glacier, the valley and river.