Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Terminal Face Walk


190 Rankers Reviews

172 Face-to-Face

20 Franz Josef Glacier

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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The walk to the terminal face of Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef in the distance
Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere
Little blue man dices with death.....
At the Terminal


5.4 km return | 1 hour 30 minutes return

Like its twin, Fox Glacier, this is one of the few glaciers which dips to such low altitude. And it’s a short walk from a carpark close to a road close to a town where you can buy a latte. That’s why lots of people visit. And it’s impressive.

A glacier descending into a rainforest makes for quite a sight - as traveller feedback shows. Although some people say you get better views if you walk beyond the warning signs - don't be tempted. Many people have died when getting too close to the ice. Keep your distance, be happy and wowed!

NOTE - Google Maps doesn't show the access road - but there is one to the pointer on the map.


The track is closed by DoC when there has been rain, or if is raining hard. Pay attention to those warning signs. Don’t be a dick and risk someone else’s life to save yours.


This track is periodically closed due to rain and risk of rockfalls. The signs at the beginning of the track are updated daily and warn of conditions. The final section to the glacier viewpoint is steeper. Do not cross the barriers.

In high summer this can be a bit of a highway.


From Franz Josef township head south on SH6 over the Waihou River and then immediately left. The narrow road is 4 km to the parking area at the road end, from where the tracks are signposted.


From the carpark, head through the regenerating forest. Take the short detour to Sentinel Rock and return to the main track.

The Forest Walk to where the valley opens up is on a good surface, but from here to the terminal face the going gets rougher.

You are now following the river bed and the detritus left by the retreating glacier. Follow the marker poles and cairns, use structures over the streams and be vigilant for rock falls. This is a raw mountain environment.

At the conclusion, there is an incline past some outcrops of schist and around some massive boulders. The viewpoint at the end is around 400 m from the terminal face.

Do not cross the barriers.


Why does Franz Josef Glacier descend so low? It’s a combination of factors.

The West Coast receives a prodigious rainfall due to being a high mountain barrier in the path of moisture laden air circumnavigating the globe in the belt of winds known as the Roaring Forties. Translated to snow, the upper accumulation area, known in geology speak as a nevée, receives around 40 m of snow per year. That’s not a typo. As the layers build up, the weight of overlying snow compacts the flakes to hard ice, which due to gravity starts to flow. Just like a river. The valley then funnels this ice into a steep descent, penetrating the rainforest.

Apparently due to some phenomenon called ‘Climate Change’, the glaciers are retreating. If you visit over a number of years you can see this with your own eyes. Mind you, 17,000 years ago, all the West Coast glaciers were 11 km off shore from the present coastline, 20 km distant.

European History

Julius von Haast was employed as the Provincial Geologist for Canterbury to undertake surveys of the West Coast region. He named the glacier after Emperor Franz Josef of Austria in 1865.


Feature Value Info


DOC West Coast

Central government organisation


South IslandWest CoastFranz Josef Glacier


  • Walking
  • Free


Showing 13 reviews of 170.

Flatlanders's avatar



Ranking: 4/10

Too many tourists, too many helicopters, glacier is distant (if you're an adventures hiker you've seen better). Tip: follow the riverbed halfway to the right. This makes a more exiting trail for a bit. Made us realise why we go off the beaten path and not these touristtraps next to the highway. The only 'positive' thing is it makes you realise the impact of global warming and knowing every little bit helps...those helicopters every 5 minutes certainly do not.

Reviewed about 3 years ago

Henry's avatar


Ranking: 5/10

Overrated. Glacier is melting fast, and it’s a very underwhelming experience. Alright if you’re having a slow news day but there are certainly better things to do than this. Can someone please tell everyone to stop feeding the kea? Thanks

Reviewed over 3 years ago

Safi's avatar


Ranking: 8/10

My rating is 8 only because the hike is in NZ, an incredibly spectacular place. The walk was great.
Wish length of hike was given in distance and elevation gain. Whether it actually takes 1 hour and 30 minutes or not depends on whether you are Mr. Edmund Hillary or not.

Reviewed almost 4 years ago

Katrina's avatar


New Zealand

Ranking: 10/10

A stunning walk in any weather. The 3 waterfalls on the right (as you walk up the glacier valley) are great for a shower/dip on a hot sunny day - do it on the walk back once you work up a sweat and you'll be dry by the time you walk back to the car ;) On a rainy day the clouds and raging river are moody and epic. As with any of these popular and easily accessible spots get in early or late to avoid the tour buses...and unless you luck upon a fresh clean, avoid the toilets - they get hammered by the hordes during the day. People who complain about not seeing much of the glacier should do a guided tour or heli-hike. The walk itself has so many beautiful vistas and resting spots along the way. Take water.

Reviewed over 4 years ago

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Alexander Scheibl's avatar

Alexander Scheibl


Ranking: 9/10

Even the weather has not been really good, the walk itself was great and we enjoyed the view and the whole scenery with the waterfalls and also the river with the floating ice pieces!

Reviewed over 4 years ago and experienced in March 2017

Shan's avatar


French Polynesia

Ranking: 8/10

A beautiful and secure trail. But too many noisy helicopters.

Reviewed over 4 years ago

Jozef Pinkerton's avatar

Jozef Pinkerton


Ranking: 10/10

Easy walk through well marked tracks. Views superb.

Reviewed over 4 years ago

Sabine Gassner's avatar

Sabine Gassner


Ranking: 10/10


Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

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Sven Fimne's avatar

Sven Fimne


Ranking: 7/10

Nice nature and really amazing views. You are not allowed to get close to the glacier on your own and there are too many tourists......

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Alice Ormandy's avatar

Alice Ormandy


Ranking: 9/10

Better view of the glacier compared to Fox. Trail was in great condition with lots to see along the way! Definitely a must do before the glacier receedes too far!

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Elke Paul's avatar

Elke Paul


Ranking: 10/10

This was an easy walk so everybody is able to do it. The view at the end of the track was amazing. On the way you can also see beautiful landscapes, with waterfalls etc.

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Alex Ehret's avatar

Alex Ehret


Ranking: 10/10

A beautiful and easy hike up to the viewpoint, leading through some rainforest in the beginning. The landscape changes to rocky gravels and waterfalls. Come before 8am to avoid the crowds.

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Jodi Halligan's avatar

Jodi Halligan


Ranking: 8/10

Great scenic walk to the Glacier. Shame the weather limited views of the Franz Joseph Glacier itself.

Reviewed almost 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

Cymen Crick's avatar

Cymen Crick