Franz Josef Glacier
The glacier is open year-round. The best time to visit Franz Josef depends on what you’re looking for. Mild temperatures? Ice highlights? Fewer Crowds? Read on for our detailed ‘WHEN TO GO’ tips:
Weather / Crowds / Highlights
In general, the weather is highly unpredictable in this region, regardless of the season. Within one day it can change radically. Always bring rain gear, despite a sunny weather forecast. The Franz Josef town experiences more than 5 liters of rain each year and 10-15 meters of snow at the top of the glacier. However, in the winter it’s more stable.
June - August (winter): Temperatures are low: 5 – 15°C (41-57°F), but the weather is more stable than during other seasons. Winter has the clearest days; everything is clean and pristine. Highlight: The ice moves less in winter, resulting in amazing ice features like crevasses and ice caves which stay much longer. There are significantly fewer tourists, and it’s a lot quieter than in summer months.
September - November (spring): Temperatures are rising: 9 – 17°C (48-63°F). September is still quiet but also still a cool month with 6-13°C. October gets a little more busy and warmer. November is already peak season which means it gets crowded during the day.
December - February (summer): Mild daytime temperatures between 12 and 25°C (53-77°F). Great for exploring. However, the weather is very unpredictable and can quickly change from sun to heavy rainfall which might last for hours or even days. It’s also the very busy peak season: Starting in November (spring) and lasting until March with up to 2700 tourists each day. Be prepared for crowded tracks and photo spots.
March - May (fall): Temperatures continue to be pleasant: 9 – 17°C (48-63°F). However, be prepared for rain like in the summer. In March it’s still busy. The heavy crowds start to dissipate during April and thin out even more in May.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
It’s usually very busy and crowded in high season between November and March with one million visitors each year. Especially if you want to take the popular 45 minutes walk to the glacier (90 minutes round trip). Although there is plenty of parking space, it fills up pretty quick by mid-morning. In peak season it can become quite difficult to find a parking spot after 10 AM. The main track itself gets crowded as well, although it thins out a little as you near the glacier. When parts of the track are closed during or after heavy rainfall, it feels even more crowded. Moreover, the helicopter sightseeing and hiking flights start at 8 AM making a lot of noise. Expect one helicopter each minute during the peak season. To dodge the crowds and avoid the disturbing helicopter noise be there early around 7 AM. You’ll experience a much more peaceful walk to the glacier and enjoy the fascinating sights in solitude. You might also try to go after 5 PM in the summer, after 3 PM in the winter when the crowds dissipated again and heli flights are terminated for the day. However, the views often get worse since the clouds descend later in the day.
Where to Stay
- Best Hotels - Franz Josef. Use the comfortable search: Enter your preferred dates and then check the list of hotels. Make sure to change the search criteria to your liking at the top bar. We usually select 'Review Score & Price'.
- Top Tip: Aspen Court Franz Josef. Outstanding experience! Great location close to hot pools (across the road) and restaurants. 10-minute drive (google maps route) to the Glacier parking lot. Friendly staff, clean and modern rooms (hotel opened December 2013), some rooms have a spa bath!
- We'd chosen the Glacier Highway Motel opened in December 2017. All have a kitchenette, the motel is quietly located, and the staff is super friendly.
Located in Westland National Park, this is one of New Zealand's most spectacular natural attractions. 12 km long, 7000 years old. It is the steepest and fastest moving glacier in New Zealand up to 4 meters have been recorded.
How to experience Franz Josef Glacier:
Walk / Hike
It only takes 45 minutes on the most popular track to get close to the glacier (about 200m). It’s a short hike with fascinating views. However, the track is sometimes closed due to ice collapse, flooding or landslides. Check the daily updates (click the PDF document at the top): http://www.glaciercountry.co.nz, Please note that it’s not possible to get on the glacier itself via this or any other walk anymore. In the past, it was possible by choosing a guided hike. Since 2012 it's unsafe to walk on the glacier due to a massive loss of ice. Very detailed information and tips about this track: Franz Josef Walk. Of course, there are other fascinating and longer hikes in the area as well. If you are limited in time walk at least the easy 1 hr 20 mins return Callery Gorge Trail to experience the rainforest. Check out these detailed guides: Department of Conservation Franz Josef Glacier
Heli Tour (Flights, Ice Climbs, Kayak)
This is your only chance to walk on the glacier itself. The helicopter will land on the ice, and you’ll be taking a guided hike up to 3 hours. As this is the most popular activity make sure to book well in advance. Other fascinating activities include scenic plane flights, heli ice climbs or kayak tours (safe booking via TripAdvisor).
- Free parking
- No entrance fee
- A board in the car park that the Park Rangers update on a daily basis
- Check updates on track closures (click the PDF): http://www.glaciercountry.co.nz
- Book your heli tour well in advance
- Be there early in the morning for the hike
- It’s much quieter and with more ice highlights in the winter
- More useful resources: Glacier Country Tourism Group Franz Josef Glacier
Quick Fact About Franz Josef
- Length: 10.5 km
- Dimension: 35 km²
- Bottom of the Glacier: just 300 m above sea level
- Status: since 2008 retreating already more than 800 m (3 km since the late 1880's)
Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are the most sensitive glaciers. Both have a short reaction time to climate change.