Precision Helicopters Hokitika above snow fields and glaciers in the Southern Alps.
Unique twin glaciers


Precision Helicopters above Southern Alps

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier are among the most accessible glaciers in the world.

New Zealand's West Coast Glacier Country is one of only two places in the world where you can view glaciers descending into temperate rainforest.

Snow rarely falls in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier townships but there's plenty of snow in the high mountains nearby, just what a glacier needs to produce ice.

While you can’t walk all the way up to the glacier face, there are guides available to take you safely up and onto the glaciers via helicopter for a heli hike.


There are a couple of options to view or experience the glaciers.

  • Take a guided tour with one of the many glacier guiding companies that operate from Franz Josef or Fox townships.
  • Walk up the Franz Josef valley for views the front of the glacier.
  • There are several short walks where you can get views of the glaciers.

If you are walking in the lower glacier valley, please respect the signposted barriers and do not go beyond them.

The glaciers are a very dynamic area and rocks and ice are constantly falling off the terminal faces.

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier Guides.JPG


The land where the glaciers are located is sandwiched between the Tasman Sea and the highest mountains in New Zealand.

Warm, moist air travelling from Australia drops snow in the higher elevations of the Southern Alps, piling it up to form large neves or snowfields.

Gravity then squeezes it down the valley (a bit like toothpaste) and the fluffy snowflakes become compressed into hard blue ice.

The valleys are so steep and narrow that the tongues of ice have pushed far down into rainforest, and not much above sea level.

The forces generated by the moving tongue of ice grind away at everything in its path to reach the terminal face at the front of the glacier.

A glacier likes to find equilibrium, where the amount of ice produced in the neve is equal to the amount of ice lost to melting in its tongue. This results in the dramatic advances and retreats of the terminal face of the two glaciers.


The Māori name for the Franz Josef Glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere which refers to 'the tears of Hinehukatere‘.

The legend of the Makawhio people (a sub tribe of the Ngai Tahu) says that Hinehukatere was a fearless young woman who loved climbing in the mountains.

She persuaded her lover Wawe to climb with her, even though he was less experienced. Disaster struck when an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death.

The Fox Glacier was his final resting place, or moeka. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many tears flowed down the mountain.

The gods froze these tears in a river of ice and the Franz Josef glacier was formed as a reminder of her grief.

The choice of the glacier's European name is a less romantic. In 1865, Austrian explorer Julius Von Haast named the Franz Josef Glacier after the Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef I. The local village eventually took its name from the glacier.

Haast named the Fox Glacier in honour of the New Zealand Premier, Sir William Fox.

Franz Josef Glacier.