Flying onto and Hiking a Glacier in New Zealand!

The village of Franz Josef on the west coast of the southern island of New Zealand (whew, that’s a long “address” to give for a village) exists to share the Franz Josef glacier with those who want to see it.  This glacier and neighboring Fox glacier are 2 out of 3 glaciers in the world that end in a rainforest and miss getting directly to the ocean by not much!

Now, there are numerous ways to explore the glacier:  short walks, half-day or full day hikes, heli-hikes, flyovers and perhaps more that I do not know about.  I decided that due to sore knees from earlier hikes that I should not do the full day hike. But then the helicopter ride tempted me as we would start further up the glacier plus we would do all the hiking on the glacier instead of part of it being on normal ground to get to the glacier.  I am always up for such a shortcut when the tradeoff is like this!

The helicopter flight up took less than 10 mins.  I could not tell you how long it took as I was to busy looking out and snapping pictures.  He did fly us to the top before coming back down a bit to drop us off.  In that last segment, the pilot did a nice maneuver where we were almost on our side.  Nice surprise…

Franz Josef, glacier hike, New Zealand, blue ice, crampons, adventure, outdoors

Approaching the glacier on the helicopter – a thrill!

glacier hike, blue ice, outdoors, adventure, helicopter

With our transport after arriving at the glacier

The amount of ice is unbelievable and we didn’t really get to see the top field of the glacier which must be quite expansive (and deep!).  We landed – it seems – like 2/3 of the way up the face of the glacier.  A guide had been dropped off earlier to scout the terrain that day (since the glacier moves, etc. they cannot just assume the same area will work from one day to the next) and set up the landing spot for the copter.  Once we landed, he quickly explained a few things to us (like how to use the crampons on our boots to better get a grip on the ice as we walked).  We quickly got the groove of it and began exploring.  The guide would check out the area he wanted to take us through and then we would follow.

glacier hike, blue ice, outdoors, adventure

About to enter a cave

glacier hike, blue ice, outdoors, adventure

Fun place!

Like this, we explored crevasses, mini-caves and open spaces.  The most exhilarating thing was getting deep into a crevasse or mini-cave and be surrounded by beautiful blue ice.  Of course, you always had to be mindful of the floor of crevasses and mini-caves as they could be at any moment just a thin layer of ice and your foot would just go right through to freezing water underneath!  That happened to a couple of folks in the group.

glacier hike, blue ice, outdoors, adventure

Oh, oh, how do I get out of this??

glacier hike, blue ice, outdoors, adventure


Another solo traveler and I quickly clued in that it would be best if we traded cameras during the hike to snap pix of each other instead of constantly having to ask each other or others “can you take my picture?”  He did a great job of snapping pix away of me with my camera so I have a nice set of pix of me in all sorts of tight spots, etc.!

glacier hike, blue ice, adventure, outdoors, Franz Josef, New Zealand

The guide leading the pack

Franz Josef, glacier hike, New Zealand, blue ice, crampons, adventure, outdoors

About to enter a very small “cave” at the glacier

Franz Josef, glacier hike, New Zealand, blue ice, crampons, adventure, outdoors

Going through one of the most vertically challenged “caves” that we went through

After 2 hours, the helicopter came back for us and took a more direct route down than he took up.  A fellow traveler and I went to grab lunch and celebrate with a beer.  Later that evening, New Zealand was going to be playing a match of rubgy against France so we met up again at one of the few pubs/restaurants in the village to watch with the rest of the visitors.   The place was The Landing and we enjoyed the setup and the friendliness of the wait staff.

I was told that during summer, during peak tourist season, the village can get up to 3,000 visitors in one day.  In winter, the numbers are much lower but I was surprised still at the amount of visitors.  I think that the place is likely just as beautiful in the winter (though colder).  It was not really terribly cold, in fact, we had lunch outdoors that day with no heaters (but still wearing our jackets).  In the evening, it definitely got cold!

Franz Josef, glacier hike, New Zealand, blue ice, crampons, adventure, outdoors

The group

There are lots of options when visiting this glacier, or Fox glacier, on what to do.  Cost can be a key factor in choosing the activity but, if you can afford it, by all means do the heli-hike!  You will not regret this way of experiencing nature and the beauty of glacier country in New Zealand!


  1. Waoooo!!! Everything sounds amazing, you have great pictures also…..enjoy!!!

  2. charles says:

    hey man, looks like a great trip so far. jealous, very very jealous.

  3. Thanks for directing me to your New Zealand articles. And what a great idea about switching cameras! I can’t wait to read the rest.

  4. Oh my goodness, that one picture of you going through the most narrow sections gave me claustrophobia just looking at it. Still, I’m definitely going to have to do this if I end going there. 🙂
    Gina recently posted..Airports: Traveling Without Your Other HalfMy Profile

    • LOL, Gina. It was a little bit precarious but not too bad. Avoiding crevices was a little more daunting for me, especially when the young woman in front of me slipped towards one (did not fall). It’s just gorgeous down there – I hope you go!

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