Should I visit Franz Josef or Fox Glacier?
In a land known as the untouched world, there’s one part of New Zealand that stands alone as the wildest (and wettest) of them all: the West Coast. It’s a land where the old frontier spirit lives on, set to a backdrop of waterfalls, rainforests and mountains. And it’s home to two of NZ’s largest and most accessible glaciers; Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
These “rivers of ice” descend from high up in the mountains and weave their natural path down into the valley floor, many kilometres below. They’re the West Coast’s giant, icy twins, and they’re only a short drive from each other. Most visitors choose to visit only one glacier, so, which one should you pick? Let’s take a closer look.
Getting to know Fox Glacier
Although it’s only a tiny community with a chilled (excuse the pun) vibe, Fox Glacier itself is actually the larger of the two glaciers—it’s 12 kilometres long! The access road leading to the glacier lookout is currently closed (accurate as of November 2019), so glacier access is restricted to helicopter flights only.
Luckily, from the air is by far the best way to see the glacier, and a chopper ride remains the only way to get your boots on the ice, where you’ll follow your guide across its many pathways. You can also enjoy some truly epic views of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak.
A visit to nearby Lake Matheson is highly recommended for a beautiful walk around its mirrored waters. Visit close to dawn or dusk for the most incredible reflections where you can see the glacier perfectly mirrored on the water’s surface. Don’t forget your camera! To walk all the way round is a 90-minute return, but you can walk to one of the lake’s viewing platforms in less than half an hour if you just want that perfect photo.
Fox Glacier highlights: Less crowds, NZ’s largest accessible glacier, views of Mt. Cook, mirror lake walk at Lake Matheson
Getting to know Franz Josef
Franz Josef’s glacier may be smaller in size, but it’s no less impressive. In fact, this is your best option if you want to get a look at the blue ice with its gorgeous sapphire glow. Like Fox Glacier, the only way to get onto the ice itself is via helicopter. The glacier incline is steeper than Fox Glacier, which creates more rapid changes to the ice formations.
Your experienced guide will point out newly formed features like crevasses, tunnels, and opportunities to see the blue ice. Remember, glaciers are like living organisms, constantly moving and evolving, albeit slowly!
Franz Josef’s township is significantly more developed than Fox Glacier; you’ll find more choice of accommodation, plus the excellent West Coast Wildlife Centre, kayak tours, and pounamu (NZ greenstone) carving demos. We love to visit the glacier hot pools to soak tired muscles after a day’s exploring on the ice.
Franz Josef highlights: More extreme ice formations, range of accommodation and amenities, hot pools