Winter highlights in Glacier Country

Glacier Country is home to our highest mountains, wildest rivers, longest glaciers and tallest forests. Here, it’s easy to venture into some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most diverse and untouched landscapes during the day, and relax in comfort by night.

Put your hibernation plans on ice and explore a glacial wonderland this winter — before international visitors return to this bucket-list destination.

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier

Escape to an icescape

Highlight number one in Glacier Country goes without saying. Spectacularly superlative Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are the most accessible of the 60 plus in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, which drops sharply from alpine ridges over 3000 metres to temperate rainforest just above sea level.

The balancing act between competing forces — heavy snowfall high in the mountains battling with melting ice lower down the valley — creates vibrant, creeping rivers of ice that are always on the move. If you spend long enough at a viewpoint you might even spot a huge chunk of ice splitting off the glacier’s terminal face (a guided walk or e-bike is the best option at Fox Glacier).

Further up, snowfall compacts to create walls of clear blue ice, carved out by huge crevasses and caves. This otherworldly landscape needs to be seen up close to be believed — guided heli-hiking tours can take you to a remote part of the glacier for an ice hike (suitable for all abilities and fitness) or a more extreme ice climb.

If you don’t want to land on ice, a scenic flight over this UNESCO World Heritage site will take your breath away. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, visitors from all over the world come to experience these frozen giants. Before the chopper traffic picks up, treat yourself to a tour. You might even get an entire glacier to yourself.

Book a guided glacier hike or scenic glacier flight

Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Glacier Country walks and hikes

Immerse yourself in the must see places of the West Coast in the walks and tracks of Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and the Glacier Country.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Fox Glacier Guiding

TripAdvisor Best of the Best 2021 Top Out of the Ordinary Experience – World #1 Fox Glacier Heli Hike. Year-round guided Heli Hikes and Ice Climbing on the West Coast's biggest and less crowded glacier. Discover the dramatic world of ice.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country
$240 - $450

The Helicopter Line Fox Glacier

The Helicopter Line can offer you spectacular close-up views on a scenic flight to explore and discover the dramatic expanse of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and snowfields.

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New Zealand's highest tandem skydive 20,000ft at Skydive Franz
New Zealand highest Sky Drive at Skydive Franz

Take a birds-eye view of a winter wonderland

To really see the whole picture of glacier country, you need to take a helicopter view — quite literally. On a scenic flight, see how the mighty glaciers tumble down from their origins in the Southern Alps, spot untouched mountain lakes, rugged coastlines, and even snow-covered Aoraki Mount Cook.

Want to touch the white stuff? It rarely snows down at sea level but with an alpine snow-landing you’re guaranteed to experience the purest powder. Get your camera to the ready, so you can enjoy the unbelievable landscapes long after you land.

If you can keep your eyes open when jumping out of a plane, a skydive is an even more exhilarating way to see the view. Carbon-zero, government safety-approved and awarded for their community commitment, Skydive Franz Josef & Fox Glacier offer jumps with stunning views from the glaciers and Aoraki Mount Cook to the Tasman Sea. They’re currently offering some well-priced packages including accommodation and other activities, so get in quick.

Book a scenic flight or skydive

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Skydive Franz Josef Glacier

NZ's highest skydive at 20,000ft. Skydive Franz is NZ's premier tandem skydiving experience amidst mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers and ocean views. Multiple height options from 9,000ft to 20,000ft. Featured on Red Bull's Most Insane Skydives.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Glacier Country Scenic Flights

The best way to experience the New Zealand glaciers is on a scenic helicopter flight with Glacier Country Scenic flights.

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Waiho Hot Tubs Franz Josef-23.jpg
Waiho Hot Tubs

Warm up, slow down

Yes, it rains a bit on the West Coast. Although winter brings with it many clear, crisp days in Glacier Country, you may need a few rainy day activities to fall back on. How about a soothing spa day?

The luxuriously laidback Rainforest Retreat in Franz Josef township is a great place to base yourself when exploring Glacier Country, and the ‘deluxe spa tree houses’ offer private outdoor hot tubs among the rainforest canopy.

Nearby Waiho Hot Tubs are private, wood-fired cedar tubs nestled in amongst the native bush, and filled with water from fresh mountain streams. Perfect for a couple’s retreat, families are also welcome as every tub has its own private rainforest setting.

Fancy a massage to really take your relaxation to the next level? Amaia Luxury Spa in Franz Josef offers all the usual treatments, including a ‘top-to-toe’ relaxing and rejuvenating package.

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Rainforest Retreat

Nestled amongst native bush at the feet of the Southern Alps, Rainforest Retreat offers deluxe Tree House, Tree Lodge, Tree Huts and Park Motel accommodation, and a friendly and fun backpackers and holiday camp.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Waiho Hot Tubs, Franz Josef Glacier

Relax with us for an hour. The Waiho Hot Tubs at Franz Josef Glacier are your ultimate wilderness relaxation adventure. Recharge your body and mind as you soak in your own fresh water, wood fired, private hot tub hidden in a rainforest setting.

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Lake Matheson - Fox Glacier
Lake Matheson - Fox Glacier

Take a walk under misty mountains and through vibrant forests

On a short winter’s day, sometimes all you want is a short walk or stroll. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to immerse yourself in nature in Glacier Country.

Aside from the glacier lookout walks at Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, there’s so many (well-formed) paths to take here, many of which lead through lush rainforest to impressive mountain views and tranquil lakes.

A few minutes’ drive from Fox Glacier township, The Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk is a gentle loop through West Coast rainforest, leading to views of the jagged spines of the Southern Alps reflected on the still waters of the lake. Photographers flock here in calm weather, and for wintry days there’s a café by the water’s edge for a cosy hot chocolate once you’ve completed the 4.4km stroll.

Even shorter, but a beautiful blast of nature nonetheless — Peter’s Pool Walk takes you on a 1km walk to a small kettle lake, formed by glacial ice melt around 200 years ago. Spot Franz Josef glacier in the distance (and up close in the reflective surface of the lake) and take a moment to bask in the serenity of the tranquil setting. If you’re feeling energetic, the short climb to Sentinel Rock provides impressive views of the glacial valley and Waiho River.

There’s plenty more to choose from, find out about shorts walks in Glacier Country

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Franz Josef

The small but lively Franz Josef village is surrounded by lush rainforest with the high snow-capped Alps above.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Franz Josef or Fox Glacier Twin Glacier

Steep and dramatic or vast and remote? Take our Twin Glacier flight and you won't have to choose – you'll experience two very different glacial formations and a snow landing.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country
Local wildlife at 3 Mile Lagoon, Okarito
Local wildlife at Okarito Lagoon

Spot wildlife — inside or out

Just a 25 minutes’ drive from Franz Josef township, the tiny village of Ōkārito is one of the West Coast’s hidden natural gems and home to some rare and special birds.

Okarito Eco Boat Tours can get you respectfully close to the 70 plus bird species that inhabit the nearby lagoon and waterways. The human settlement may be small but the landscapes are big: at 3000 hectares, New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland area is framed by lush native rainforest and the snow-capped Southern Alps (look out for the peaks of Aoraki Mount Cook and Mount Tasman).

Gliding slowly through the still rainforest waterways in a custom-built boat or kayak (with Okarito Kayaks), you might spot the mythical, magnificent kōtuku (white heron) as well as royal spoonbills, godwits, oystercatchers and dotterels.

Rare, noisy rowi kiwis can be seen (and heard) in the nearby Ōkārito Forest. For their origin story and to hear more about conservation on the Coast, visit the hatchery at the West Coast Wildlife Centre.

The Tasman Sea is never far away in Glacier Country — a short scenic drive from Fox Glacier, Gillespies Beach offers lovely mountain views and spectacular sunsets (make sure you turn around to see the Southern Alps bathed in pink and orange hues). In winter, there's a resident seal colony at Galway Beach. Keep an eye out for Fiordland crested penguins and Hector's dolphins here too.

The Tatare Tunnels are home to the tiniest of critters featured here. The 3.6km walk to the old water tunnels starts in Franz Josef, and ends deep in the rocks. Take your raincoat and a torch, but be sure to switch it off once you’re in there so you can spot the glow-worms.

Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

Okarito Boat EcoTours

Okarito - New Zealand's largest and unmodified wetlands. Surrounded by the towering Southern Alps and rainforest waterways, on the open air boat you are instantly engaged in watching the birds and incredible landscapes.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country
$60 - $130

Okarito Kayaks

Stunning rental and fully guided kayak trips on the remote and tranquil Okarito Lagoon, with incredible views of the Southern Alps and Westland Tai Poutini National Park. Family friendly and suitable for all abilities.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers & Glacier Country

West Coast Wildlife Centre - Franz Josef

Lonely Planet judged the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef as one of the 12 must see things to visit in New Zealand. This is the largest kiwi hatching facility in the South Island and must see" all weather attraction. See live Tuatara & Kiwi.

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