Thrilling Things to Do in Franz Josef New Zealand

Franz Josef New Zealand is a captivating South Island destination in the heart of the West Coast. Known for its awe-inspiring natural wonders, the charming village offers an abundance of activities and attractions for every traveller. Adventurers and nature lovers especially love Franz Josef. Please keep reading to find out what Franz Josef is best known for, its prominent landmarks, thrilling things to do in Franz Josef, and how to go on your unforgettable journey to the enchanting Franz Josef Glacier.

Waiho River at sunset, Franz Josef, New Zealand.

Franz Josef Prominent Landmarks

Franz Josef Glacier view from helicopter.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef is known for its magnificent glacier, the Franz Josef Glacier. This awe-inspiring river of ice, stretching over 12 kilometres, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and attracts visitors from all corners of the globe. The glacier’s unique blend of rugged terrain and icy blue crevasses creates a mesmerizing spectacle that will leave you in awe.

Fox Glacier

Aside from the Franz Josef Glacier, the awe-inspiring area boasts several other prominent landmarks worth exploring. One such landmark is the Fox Glacier, located a short drive away. Similar in its captivating beauty, the Fox Glacier offers breathtaking hiking trails and guided tours for those seeking an up-close encounter with this natural wonder.

Visitors often ask us which glacier to visit. We always recommend seeing both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, even though they are similar in many ways; they are both extraordinary. Read more about the attractions at Fox Glacier to help you plan a visit.

Lake Matheson

Another must-visit attraction is Lake Matheson, renowned for its mirror-like reflections of the surrounding Southern Alps. You may have seen those amazing photos of a lake with a flawless mirror image of a snow-capped mountain. That’s Lake Matheson. Your “Franz Josef Things to do List” must include Lake Matheson.

The walk along the lake’s edge offers picture-perfect views. Make sure to go at sunset or sunrise for the magical colours of the sunset reflected in the water. 

Franz Josef to Lake Matheson is just a 30-minute drive.Find out how to get there, what to see, and the best times to visit in Your ultimate guide to the Lake Matheson Walk.

Things to Do in Franz Josef New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

Yes, most people come to Franz Josef to see the glaciers and activities tend to revolve around the glaciers; However, Franz Josef New Zealand is a nature lover’s paradise. The town is surrounded by lush rainforests, with several hiking trails available for all fitness levels.

Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

The most popular Franz Josef walk is the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk. The scenic and leisurely stroll is on a well-maintained trail offering mesmerizing views of the glacier and its surrounding landscapes. As you meander through the lush rainforest, you’ll encounter stunning waterfalls, rugged cliffs, and towering mountains. This 1.5-hour walk is suitable for all fitness levels and provides an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural splendour of the West Coast. The Franz Josef Glacier Walks is a South Island must-do activity and one of the best things to do in Franz Josef. We highly recommend it!

Franz Josef Helicopter Tours

For more exhilarating Franz Josef activities and a truly breathtaking perspective of the Southern Alps and its glaciers, take one of the Franz Josef scenic flights. Franz Josef helicopter flights fly over the pristine landscape and the vast expanse of ice and rugged mountains.

Along with the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk, a Franz Josef helicopter tour is one of the things to do in Franz Josef that you should not miss!

If you are on a tight budget, the shorter trips start from 20 minutes. You can choose either the Franz Josef or Fox Glacier. They take you above the glacier and then stop on top of the mountain, where you can get out for an adrenaline-filled snow landing and some photos. We did a Franz Josef Helicopter tour last year, and out of all the things to do in Franz Josef, we consider this the most thrilling. 

Franz Josef Heli Hike: More Thrilling Things to Do in Franz Josef New Zealand

For those more travellers who love adventure and seek an adrenaline rush, guided glacier hiking tours offer you the chance to experience the thrill of walking on a glacier and exploring its icy wonders. A glacier hike rewards you with views of deep crevasses, towering ice formations, and sparkling blue ice caves. A glacier hike starts with a short thrilling flight and lands on the glacier, so you really get two different ways to see the glacier. 

There are some seriously thrilling activities to do on the South Island. For a comprehensive list, check out our curated story with over 130 bucket list worthy activities, New Zealand South Island Bucket List – South Island Must Do.

Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Nature lovers will absolutely love exploring the nearby Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The park is abundant in native flora and fauna, and you can easily access short to longer walks. 

The network of walking tracks winds through ancient rainforests, revealing hidden waterfalls, native birdlife, and lush vegetation. 

If you only have time for one walk, be sure it’s Peter’s Pool hike. The 30-minute return easy walk takes you to a tranquil reflective lake with picture-perfect views of the surrounding mountains.

Check out the Department of Conservation website for more information on the various Franz Josef walks.

Franz Josef Glow Worms

One of the more unique things to do in Franz Josef is the short walk to an old gold mining tunnel to see magical glowworms. These bioluminescent creatures create a captivating display as they light up the darkness with their radiant glow. 

To see this natural wonder, head to the Tartare Tunnels, just a short drive from the village. As you venture into the tunnels, turn off your flashlight and be prepared to be awe-struck as thousands of tiny glowworms illuminate the cave walls, creating a starry spectacle. 

West Coast Wildlife Centre

The West Coast Wildlife Centre is a great place to experience New Zealand’s unique wildlife.

Discover the fascinating Kiwi conservation program and observe these iconic birds in their specially designed natural bush enclosures. South Islands’ largest kiwi hatching facilitating provides a rare opportunity to observe these iconic flightless birds up close.

Relax in the Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools

After a day of exploration, unwind and rejuvenate your body and mind in the soothing waters of the Franz Josef Hot Pools. The natural thermal pools offer a blissful retreat nestled amid lush rainforests. 

This extremely popular attraction sees visitors from all over the world luxuriating in the glacial waters.

Please note the Franz Josef Hot Pools are currently closed. Please check out their website for more recent information on reopening dates.

Kayaking on Lake Mapourika

Another adventure for those who want more action than relaxation on their holiday is kayaking on Lake Mapourika. Glide across the calm waters, surrounded by breathtaking views of the Southern Alps and lush rainforest and experience the serenity of Franz Josef from the unique vantage point. Keep an eye out for native birdlife as you explore the hidden corners of the pristine alpine lake. 

Kayak rentals are available in Franz Josef town for a self-guided trip, or you can opt for a guided kayaking tour to learn about the history and ecology of the area.


For the ultimate adrenaline rush and a bird’s-eye view of Franz Josef, take the plunge and experience skydiving. Feel the thrill of freefalling from a plane and enjoy breathtaking views as you descend over the stunning landscapes of the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

Franz Josef Quad Bike Adventures

If that’s not enough action for you, experience the thrill of exploring the rugged terrain surrounding Franz Josef on a quad-biking adventure. Guided off-road tours travel through rainforest, rivers and ancient glacier riverbeds. Navigate through muddy tracks and conquer challenging trails as you immerse yourself in this adrenaline-pumping activity, perfect for adventure seekers.


A short drive from Franz Josef, immerse yourself in the beauty of the Tasman Sea and the rugged surrounding landscape. Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, spot unique bird species, and soak in the natural serenity of this hidden beach paradise.

Take a scenic boat ride through the nearby Okarito Estuary, an experience that offers a unique perspective of the area’s natural wonders. As you navigate through the calm waters, you will see many varieties of birds, with the opportunity to see the graceful white heron and the royal spoonbill. 

This experience is one of the coolest things to do in Franz Josef for people who prefer to photograph the action.

Best Places to Eat

View of Franz Josef village and The Landing Restaurant

After a day of exploration, indulge in the tasty offerings of Franz Josef restaurants. The village boasts a range of dining cafes and restaurants offering unique cuisines. The below Franz Josef restaurants are our favourites, and you should add them to your list of things to do in Franz Josef. 

The Landing Bar & Restaurant

The Landing Bar & Restaurant is on the main street in the heart of the village, offering a chance to sit on the spacious deck and people-watch. The Franz Josef restaurant is popular with locals and has a warm and inviting ambience. The diverse menu includes mouthwatering pasta, pizzas, gourmet burgers and a selection of locally crafted beers. We always go there for our morning coffee too, as it’s in the centre of all the village activities.

Alice May

A hidden gem tucked away in Franz Josef, Alice May delights visitors with its fusion of New Zealand and European cuisine. If you like your meals served with a touch of history and interesting architecture, Alice May is a do not miss Franz Josef restaurant for you. We love the Tudor decor and the glacier views from the courtyard.

Monsoon Restaurant

Another of our favourites, Monsoon, has a great vibe, with a bar and two huge fireplaces. The deck and outdoor bar is the place to be when the weather is warmer.

How to get to Franz Josef

Franz Josef is easily accessible by both car and public transport. Regular bus services operate between major cities, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the picturesque landscapes en route.

If you’re driving from Christchurch, take the road via Arthurs Pass, and prepare to be enthralled for a 5-hour scenic journey through the Southern Alps. 

Franz Josef to Nelson is an approximately 5-hour drive. If you’re driving, State Highway 6, the scenic coastal route, is highly recommended, with plenty of photo opportunities. 

Franz Josef to Fox Glacier is just 30 minutes drive.

Franz Josef to Punakaiki is a 3-hour drive. 

Hokitika to Franz Josef is a 2 hours drive.   

After you have done all the things to do in Franz Josef, are you going to Hokitika next? Read The Best Things to Do in Hokitika New Zealand.

Is it worth visiting Franz Josef?

Franz Josef offers an irresistible blend of natural beauty and thrilling adventures. There are many thrilling things to do in Franz Josef, from the awe-inspiring glaciers to the tranquil lakes, lush rainforests, and the charming village; you will surely have an unforgettable experience.

We hope you liked this list of Things to do in Franz Josef New Zealand. Don’t forget to share it on your social media or bookmark it for your trip.

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