The Bare Traveller

All you need to know about Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike

The scenery of New Zealand is magnificent. Heavenly beaches, rumbling volcanoes, clear lakes, fjords, and a lot more. But did you know that there are also some glaciers in New Zealand? 

In fact, there are approximately 3,000 glaciers in New Zealand. The two most well-known are Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, both of which lie on the south island’s west coast.

Ice cave on Franz Josef Glacier

I had the chance to see a glacier up close and in person for the first time on my two-week road trip in the South Island. Because of the heli-hiking on Franz Josef Glacier, it was possible to touch the ice, drink from the glacier’s tiny streams, and enter ice caves. 

It was a fantastic event, and it ranks among my favourite recollections of our road trip. Here are all the information and advice you need to visit Franz Josef Glacier without further ado. 

Where is Franz Josef Glacier located?

The South Island of New Zealand’s west coast is where you may find Franz Josef Glacier. To get to the little settlement of Franz Josef, use the SH6 along the west coast.

How to get to Franz Josef Glacier?

By car

Franz Josef is accessible from either the north or the south along the west coast if you are fortunate enough to own a van and are doing a road trip in the South Island. From Greymouth, Franz Josef is 177 kilometres away and takes 3 hours to get there. 

To get to Franz Josef from Queenstown, it takes around 5 hours (355 kilometres). On your journey, you will also travel by the Fox glacier. This glacier lies a bit further south of Franz Josef by 30 minutes drive.

By plane

Hokitika’s regional airport is the closest one, located 130 miles from Franz Josef. To go to Franz Josef Glacier, you may then take a bus or rent a vehicle.

What time of year is ideal for visiting Franz Josef Glacier?

Many tourists choose to make stops in the Franz Josef region to attempt their glacier adventure because it is so well-liked. 

Particularly considering that the area experiences relatively mild winters, which permits year-round access to glacier treks. As opposed to the northern hemisphere, where the harsh winter weather necessitates the suspension of activity.

You simply need to choose when you want to go because Franz Josef Glacier is accessible all year round. I can still provide you some advice and my viewpoint on the subject, though.

You should be aware that New Zealand’s tourist season runs from November through February, which are the country’s summer months. If you’re like me and wish to avoid crowds, go to Franz Josef Glacier off-season.

I would even advise choosing the winter months, which are from June through August. In fact, the weather is more consistent in the winter even if the temperatures are lower (between 5 and 15 degrees C). 

Compared to other seasons of the year, there are more clear days (mid-season can be very rainy – the west coast and the Franz Josef region receives 6-8 metres of rain per year). By taking the Franz Josef glacier tour in the winter, you can eliminate the chance that it may be cancelled due to bad weather. 

And maybe most importantly, taking the trip in the winter will allow you to fully appreciate the glacier’s unique features. The glacier melts slower during the coldest months, which results in less water flowing beneath the glacier. You will have the opportunity to investigate some of the crevasses or ice caves because there is less movement.

Franz Josef Glacier may be explored during a Heli-Hike

If you are visiting Franz Josef glacier on a tight budget, you have the possibility to do walks around the glacier. Find all the details in this article.

Let’s get right to the point: the infamous Franz Josef Glacier Heli-hike I undertook at the start of April 2013. 

You must be asking what I mean by “heli-hiking” at this point. Heli-hiking refers to a hike on a glacier that can only be reached by helicopter, as its name suggests. It was the first time a person had ever walked on a glacier and the first time a helicopter had ever been used.

On the Helicopter to Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike in a nutshell

  • The Company I used: Franz Josef Glacier Guides
  • Duration: Three hours 
  • Arrival: Morning tours 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. and 1 Afternoon tour at 1 PM (check in one hour before) 
  • Added equipment: Hiking shoes, a Jacket and a waist bag.
  • Includes a guide
  • Moderate: Moderate 
  • Age requirement: minimum 8 years old 
  • Price: At the time of visit the prices were as follows: $490 per adult and $460 for 8 to 16 year olds.

Information about the Heli-hike

I have did this toor with a Belgian lady I met online. We had a scheduled appointment to check in and test our equipment one hour prior to the 11 a.m. departure, which we had chosen. When we arrived at the Helicopter Line office at 10 am in Franz Josef’s town centre, the reception staff took care of us. 

We must fill out a document detailing our health and attesting that we are aware of the hazards associated with this activity. They weighed us, recorded our shoe and clothing sizes for equipment, and gave us bracelets to wear while hiking.

Along with the guides, we also got to know the other participants. We numbered little over twenty, although we were later divided into three groups, each with an assigned guide. This is a safety precaution.

Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

The tour guides gave us a quick introduction before leading us to the office’s rear area so we can prepare ourselves. It is advised to wear breathable gear, such as hiking or sports trousers, over our garments; they supply us with waterproof pants and coats to wear on top of them (no jeans). 

Additionally, they provided us with climbing poles, suitable shoes (and socks), crampons, and a small backpack to hold our crampons and other necessities (phone, camera, sunglasses). If required, caps and gloves can also be supplied.

Shoes to hike Franz Josef Glacier

Once outfitted, a team member offered us a safety briefing in the helicopter and, in the case of an emergency, on the glacier. For the helicopter ride and the remainder of the trek, we were then split up into three groups. Let’s embark on an adventure!

The steepest glacier in New Zealand

We witness the chopper take off after being shown to the helipad by our guide. The landing was pretty windy and obtrusively. One may feel the exhilaration and a tinge of anxiousness. 

During the approximately 15-minute helicopter ride to the glacier, you can have a bird’s-eye view of the mountains in the area. The glacier’s size becomes more apparent as we approached closer to it. It’s astounding!

Getting into an Ice cave on Franz Josef Glacier

Our guide informed us that the trek will take two hours and displays the elevation gain when we land on the glacier. We are restricted in our travels on the glacier for safety concerns. The path we will travel upstream has been mapped and examined by the guides and experts on this glacier. 

Additionally, because of the numerous failures and the glacier’s growing fragility, we were unable to go to its peak. The most well-known and easily accessible glacier in the world, Franz Josef Glacier, is clearly melting as a result of global warming. 

The glacier has receded 800 metres in the past 10 years, according to our guide. The glacier is currently only accessible by helicopter due to this as well.

Drinking water on Franz Josef Glacier

We also note that one of the sharpest glaciers in New Zealand is the Franz Josef Glacier, known in Maori as Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. Its instability is explained by the fact that it flows at a pace of roughly 50 cm per day, which is quicker than the normal glacier. 

The good news is that it gives rise to some genuinely magnificent glacial features, such as ice caves, tunnels, and cracks, which are continually changing and evolving, making each day unique. As a result, you will undoubtedly have the chance to find brand-new ice caves.

Waterfalls, tunnels, caverns, and fissures

Time to explore now. We got outfitted, got our crampons on as instructed by our guide, and began the climb. We make our way around the glacier while walking through tunnels, watching waterfalls, sipping incredibly fresh stream water, and discovering caves.

At the entrance of Ice cave on Franz Josef Glacier

The guide provided us with useful details on the glacier, the area, the sort of terrain we are on, etc. We are fortunate that day since the glacier walk will take considerably longer than two hours. 

Our guide asked us if we’re okay with staying another 30 to 45 minutes on site because one of the helicopters needed to go immediately for another location. 

A couple of hikers on Franz Josef Glacier

We were shocked to hear a loud crash at the conclusion of the climb that reverberates across the valley. The guide turns around and turns to face the glacier, which I see. Avalanche? No, it was simply a collapse; there was more fear than harm. 

A few ice chunks may be seen crumbling along the glacier’s exposed rock wall, or “black hole”. Really stunning to witness and serves as further evidence of the glacier’s rapid movement.

On the helicopter ride home, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery one final time. With smiles on our faces and stars in our eyes, we achieved one of our aspirations by hiking a glacier.

Having a nap on Franz Josef Glacier

Final Thoughts

A heli-hike is expensive. In fact, we each paid $490. But it is a really singular sensation that you might only ever have once. The price sounds fair to me, especially when you consider the round-trip helicopter ride, the guide, and the three to four hours of activity in all. 

Nevertheless, don’t worry. You may still observe the Franz Josef glacier if you don’t want to go heli-hiking by trekking or by viewing it from somewhat farther away locations.

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