New Zealand Glaciers
New Zealand is home to an abundance of glaciers – over 3,000 in fact. Most are spread across the South Island, but a handful can even be found on the North Island. The most popular is undoubtedly the Franz Josef Glacier, but there are plenty of other frozen sheets and rivers of ice that are equally as magnificent. We caught up with our Experts to help you discover the most epic of New Zealand’s glaciers:
Franz Josef Glacier
From Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island, you could drive to Franz Josef. However, we’d recommend you catch the unforgettably scenic TranzAlpine train to Greymouth, passing through tunnels, crossing viaducts and taking in countless dramatic snow-capped mountain scenes. Best of all, the journey only takes 4.5 hours! On arrival into Greymouth, pick up your hire car and take the incredible coastal road to the Franz Josef Glacier, a 7.5-mile stretch of jagged ice surrounded by lush rainforest. The glacier itself, one of New Zealand’s most popular natural wonders, is easily accessible with a mostly flat approach across an ancient river valley.
The best way to experience Franz Josef Glacier is as part of a guided tour, such as our Glacier Valley Walk. Your guide leads you at a leisurely pace alongside the Waiho River bed, which follows the path of the legendary glacier and concludes at its terminal face. With an emphasis on glacier geography and history, your knowledgeable guide will ensure you get the most out of this experience. If you are feeling adventurous then speak to your Flight Centre Travel Expert about ice hiking and let us help you get even closer to the ice. Or, to get a sense of the sheer scale of Franz Josef, why not opt for a heli-hike?
Just a few miles south, the Fox Glacier requires a little longer to reach by helicopter, but its steeper upper icefall makes for a more adventurous terrain to explore. It is the longer and faster-moving of the two West Coast glaciers and, at points, plunges up to 300m in depth. Being so close to the town, it is actually possible to hike to the terminal face of Fox Glacier via a walking track. And, for the true thrill-seekers, you can take one of the most scenic skydives in the world here – freefalling right above the iconic ice sheet.
During your stay at Fox, we also recommend checking out the nearby glow worm caves – walkable from the town centre. Make sure you visit Lake Matheson too, which is only a short drive from Fox Glacier. This serene lake is famed throughout the country for the crisp reflection of Aoraki/Mount Cook in its moody waters. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most photographed lakes in the country.
Located in the heart of the South Island’s Mount Cook National Park, the Tasman Glacier is perfect for the intrepid. Here – on the largest ice shelf in New Zealand - you can walk, climb or take a heli-hike to discover the crisp white wilderness up close.
Up to 2.5 miles wide and stretching from the Southern Alps towards the Mackenzie Basin for nearly 17 miles, one of the best ways to see this hunk of ice is from its Terminal Lake. Between September and May you can even hop onboard a boat trip around the lake, so you can admire the Tasman Glacier’s ever-changing terminal face, Mount Cook and the Southern Alps from a safe distance. You’ll cruise past icebergs of all shapes and sizes too, and even have the chance to touch and taste them and their meltwater.
Here – atop this 2,797m active stratovolcano in Tongariro National Park – you’ll find 18 small glaciers clustered together. In fact, this is the only place on New Zealand’s North Island where you can see and experience ice sheets. The largest of these are the Mangatoetoenui, Summit Plateau and Whangaehu Glaciers, all of which are best viewed on a ski tour of this majestic region.
While not as large as the glaciers in the South Island, the glaciers on Mount Ruapehu are unique in their regular interaction with volcanic activity. Eruption debris, known as ‘tephra’ has been embedded within the ice in many places, making for a great photo opportunity.
Rob Roy Glacier
Located within the South Island’s Mount Aspiring National Park, around an hour from Wanaka, this hanging glacier is one of the most iconic in New Zealand. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its tramp-worthy surrounds.
The six-mile Rob Roy Valley Track starts with a dramatic swing bridge that takes you across the West Matukituki River and into the alpine zone beneath the peak. After trekking through stunning beech forest – full of fern, moss and waterfalls, as though it’s been plucked straight from a scene out of James Cameron’s Avatar – you’ll come out into the open. What a view. From here you can admire icy vistas, abundant cliffs and bluffs and, of course, the majesty of the Rob Roy Glacier itself. For the best photos, we recommend embarking on this walk in the morning, as in the afternoon the sun will be behind the glacier.