One of the iconic stops for tourists in New Zealand is the Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island.
Most people go to take a helicopter hike along the top of the glacier. I balked at the $350 NZD price.
$350 to walk on ice? No thank you!
I’ve walked on my fair share of glaciers in Canada and Iceland – neither of which bankrupted me (thanks, parents!).
But I still wanted to get to see the glacier. After all, it is the only glacier in a rain forest.
So, I found the cheapest way possible to see the Franz Josef Glacier.
Franz Josef Glacier Walk
The cheapest way to see the glacier is to do the Franz Josef Glacier walk.
The walk is a 1.5 hour walking trail that takes you to the base of the glacier.
You don’t get to touch any ice, but you can take a lovely photo of it!
This is the easiest walking trail in the area. There are a number of other ones that can take up to 5 hours with minor rock climbing required.
The Franz Josef glacier walk is the only one safe to do in the rain – and it was raining the day I visited.
This trek is easy with minor hills. The path is well-maintained and passes a number of glacial waterfalls.
Bring a water bottle to fill up from one of the falls! But be careful: you’re going to get a bit wet.
You can extend the walk by 20-30 minutes by taking small detours. There are a few interesting bodies of water to wander to. I decided to climb up a higher lookout that ended up not offering much of a different view.
The path is dotted with information signs that show you how the glacier had receded over time. The fact that it is quickly shrinking becomes very apparent when you walk from where it was in the 1900s to where it is now.
That is usually the way to sell people to do a heli hike: it won’t be here forever.
While that didn’t quite get me, I can understand the significance of it now that I’ve seen the drastic difference that 100 odd years can make.
Still, I would rather see the glacier than spend the extra $300+ to stand on it.
The walk is really peaceful with few people on it first thing in the morning. I went around 8am and only ran into about a dozen people on the way to see the glacier. On the way back, I passed almost double that.
Don’t expect a quiet walk, either. Because Franz Josef is well-known for its heli hikes, the area is constantly buzzing with helicopters.
The little kid in me kept stopping to crane my head to find the helicopters amongst the clouds. They look like tiny bugs in every photo I managed to snap, but they sounded like they were inside your skull the noise was so loud.
Take some earplugs or prepare to listen to music if you’re going alone and don’t want the soundtrack to your walk to be helicopter blades.
Getting to the Franz Josef Glacier Walk
The walk starts about an hour outside of Franz Josef, the town most people stay in.
You can walk the one hour distance to the start of the hike if you want. It’s flat terrain along the main road. If you get a map of the city, it’s very easy to see the route you’ll need to take.
To cut the extra two hours off your hike, you can take a $12 NZD vehicle transfer that will take you there and back.
My hostel recommended a shuttle service that picks up from every hostel in Franz Josef. Check at the front desk of your accommodation for information on a shuttle, or visit the city’s I-site for a pickup.
Call the shuttle service 30 minutes before you leave to have them come pick you up.
They take card or cash, and carry a change box if you don’t have the exact amount.
If you have a car, there is a parking lot at the start of the walk with plenty of space for all ranges of vehicles.
What to Bring on the Glacier Walk
I started the walk at 8am, so it was chilly out. I brought sunglasses in case it got sunny, but put on my rain jacket and sweater to begin with. Eventually, the rain cleared and I did need those glasses.
Since the glacier is in a rain forest, bring a rain jacket. You never know when the weather will turn!
The shots of the forest and the glacier are gorgeous, so don’t forget your camera.
Wear good shoes. The path isn’t hard to walk, but it has some gravel. Don’t risk rolling your ankle by wearing sandals.
Bring water and a snack.
You can do the Franz Josef Glacier walk alone. Most of the more dramatic hikes require you to have a partner.
This one is great for solo travellers who don’t feel like rounding up hiking buddies.
It’s also the safest to do on a rainy day – and there are a lot of those in a rainforest!
If you want to see the Franz Josef Glacier, but don’t want to break the bank, consider going on the Franz Josef Glacier Walk.
Have you ever walked on a glacier?