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.
Experience the bucket-list thrill of hiking across the dynamic, luminous blue ice of Fox Glacier.
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).
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. While the chopper traffic is quiet during winter, treat yourself to a tour. You might even get an entire glacier to yourself.
The views go on forever, from mountain peaks to the ocean, with a skydive over Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.
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.
Relax after a day's adventures with a soak in the Waiho Hot Tubs in the rainforest at Franz Josef.
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.
Beautiful on any day and in any season, Lake Matheson is renowned for its picture-postcard alpine reflections.
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 are 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 4.4 km stroll.
Even shorter, but a beautiful blast of nature nonetheless — Peter’s Pool Walk takes you on a 1 km 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
The waterways and coastal landscape around Ōkārito Lagoon are a safe haven for many wildlife species.
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 3.6 km 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.