Glacier Country is a unique area where you can enjoy the freedom to explore New Zealand’s most diverse, unaltered natural landscapes — from the mountains and glaciers to mirror lakes and the sea — and to immerse yourself in pure nature.
Glacier Country is a large and diverse region stretching from the wildlife sanctuaries of Ōkārito and Whataroa in the north through to the twin glaciers — Franz Josef and Fox — and their namesake small resort towns in the south.
The region provides access to some of the most spectacular natural landscapes in New Zealand including its highest mountains, longest glaciers, tallest forests, wildest rivers and most rugged coastlines.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park is part of Te Wāhipounamu South West New Zealand, a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Credit: Geoff Marks
Westland Tai Poutini National Park is one of few places in the world that includes complete mountains-to-the-sea landscapes, and its temperate rainforests are some of the most extensive found anywhere in the world.
These diverse habitats are home to endangered rowi kiwi, kea, kōtuku white heron and the tawaki Fiordland crested penguin. Rare Hector’s dolphins and fur seals may also be seen along the coastline. It is part of the ambitious Predator Free South Westland project to eliminate invasive predators from 100,000 hectares of land in order to enhance the natural biodiversity of the region, specifically native birds.
The national park offers some of the best walking and hiking in New Zealand from short, easy trails to spectacular scenic viewpoints suitable for everyone, to half-day walks and more challenging full-day or multi-day tramping adventures.
Download this guide to the best walks in Glacier Country.
Check out the Department of Conservation website for comprehensive details about walks and trails, or visit the DOC Visitor Centre in Franz Josef for more information.
Walk on the ice and experience a thrilling heli hike on Fox Glacier.
Glacier Country is one of only two places in the world where you can view glaciers descending into temperate rainforest. Snow rarely falls in the small townships of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier but a whole lot of it falls in the nearby mountains, just what a glacier needs to produce ice.
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are among the most accessible glaciers in the world. Often referred to as ‘the twin glaciers’ because they’re so close, each glacier offers a different experience. And, while you can’t walk up to these glaciers, there are guides available to take you safely up and onto the glaciers.
Franz Josef township is the gateway to Franz Josef Glacier. Although the glacier has retreated over the last 20 years, you can still experience a close encounter by doing a heli-hike or scenic flight. For experienced hikers, a full day walk on the Roberts Point or Alex Knob track rewards with breath-taking views of the glacier.
Fox Glacier township is a scenic 30-minute drive south of Franz Josef, and is a convenient base for a unique alpine experience. Fox Glacier Guiding offer a variety of adventures on the ice and in 2021 was awarded TripAdvisor’s #1 Out of the Ordinary Experience in the World. A range of helicopter scenic flights are also available from Fox Glacier.
When visiting Fox Glacier make sure to visit Lake Matheson, famous for its mirror-like reflections of the Southern Alps. There are bike tracks and many walks starting from both little towns, from family-friendly strolls to experienced tramps.
The peaceful Whataroa Valley is a haven for the rare and elusive kōtuku / white heron.
The tiny village of Whataroa is the northern gateway to Glacier Country and South Westland and the best place in New Zealand to see the rare and elusive kōtuku / white heron. Take a guided tour of Waitangiroto Sanctuary or follow the self-guided 10-minute trail to learn about these important native wetlands.
From Whataroa, Glacier Country Scenic Flights offer scenic flights over both Westland and Aoraki Mount Cook national parks, home of more than 800 glaciers and stunning alpine scenery. Visit the NZ Ice Escapes gallery or plan a tour or workshop with renowned New Zealand professional landscape photographer Petr Hlavacek.
Ōkārito lies between the Ōkārito Lagoon — a stunning wetlands sanctuary — and the Tasman Sea.
Ōkārito is a coastal settlement set on the edge of Ōkārito Lagoon — New Zealand’s largest unmodified wetland and home to some of the country’s rarest birdlife.
A boat ecotour or kayak trip on the lagoon is the best opportunity to spot birds such as the endangered white heron (kōtuku) and enjoy panoramic views of Aoraki Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. Or, go night-time kiwi spotting with Okarito Kiwi Tours for the chance to see kiwi in the wild.
For walkers and hikers, a trip up to the Ōkārito Trig is an unmissable experience, especially at sunrise or sunset when views across the Southern Alps and down to the ocean are incredible. Or, take a guided nature walk with Glacier Valley Eco Tours, based in Ōkārito.