It takes a lot of time and effort to get to Franz Josef, a tiny tourist town on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Those that make the journey are richly rewarded with amazing views of Franz Josef Glacier, as well as plenty of other walks, relaxing hot pools, and a chance to see glow worms. Keep reading to find our picks for the best things to do in Franz Josef.
Things to do in Franz Josef: Short Walks
These short walks in Franz Josef take an hour or less and let you easily get great views of the Franz Josef area.
The Valley Viewpoint
You used to be able to walk a good distance past this viewpoint, but recent track damage means you’ll miss most of it. It’s still a nice view, but the valley walk is a stunning and I hope it opens back up soon (if you’re reading this and you know it’s open again, let me know).
Sentinel Rock is reached via the main valley viewpoint track. It’s a short walk from the car park and it gives you some great views of the valley (and a little bit of the glacier). If you’re there in summer you’ll notice small groups of red rata trees among the green native forest – such a cool spot.
The walk to Peters Pool is very short, making it perfect for kids. If you visit on a still, sunny day you’ll see an awesome view reflected in the tiny lake. If you’re short on time I’d highly recommend doing this walk, as well as the two listed above.
You can also get a decent view of the glacier from the car park near Peters Pool / the valley viewpoint — perfect for those who don’t even want to leave their car!
The Canavans Knob Track is slightly south of town and gives you a different angle to appreciate. You can’t see the glacier from there (we couldn’t at least) but we were impressed with the view, and it was a nice easy walk.
We did this walk a few years ago in the rain, and it was a good option for those conditions (there’s far more cover than the more open tracks). The forest was nice enough and there’s a good view of the gorge / river at the end, but it doesn’t have the expansive views of the other tracks mentioned above.
Alex Knob Track
If you’re after something a little more strenuous than the easy hikes above, you’d better consider doing the Alex Knob Track. It’ll take you 6-8 hours, and there’s a lot of uphill hiking involved (over 1000 metres elevation gain), but the views at the top are some of the best you’ll see anywhere in New Zealand.
I can’t recommend this walk enough – check out our post about it and I’m sure you’ll be inspired to do it! One thing to note is that you need good weather or you won’t see anything at the top, and you need to start early as the clouds tend to roll in around lunchtime. There’s another day walk in Franz Josef (Roberts Point Track), but from what I’ve seen the views aren’t anywhere near as good as what you’ll get at Alex Knob.
Explore the Town
After exploring the scenery on the outskirts of town, you’ll probably want to relax a bit. The town itself is tiny but there are some great views from the quiet backstreets, and there are a few nice bars, restaurants, and cafes to relax at. If you can, try and get a room with a view if you’re staying in Franz Josef.
Glacier Hot Pools
One of the best things to do in Franz Josef, which doesn’t involve any effort, is a trip to the Glacier Hot Pools (we were hosted, so be sceptical if you don’t trust us yet!). We had a private pool nestled among the trees and it was such a relaxing experience. There are also public pools if you’re on a budget.
Glacier flights are some of the most popular things to do in Franz Josef and there are some options depending on your budget. You can get a quick scenic flight, where you’ll see the glacier for around $200 but if you want to land on the glacier you’ll be looking at close to $500. We’ve never done it, but it could be a fun thing to do.
The Terrace Track, which is very close to the main street, is home to glow worms after dark (well, they probably live there during the day too). We’ve been there twice now and saw heaps the first time, but not many the second (January 2021). It’s always special seeing glow worms – it’s hard to get a good photo of them though (don’t use your flash, as apparently they don’t like it).
A trip to Okarito is a fun thing to do in Franz Josef. It takes around 30 minutes to drive there and there are a few things to keep you busy, including kayaking in the lagoon, a beach, a few different walks, and a gallery (Andris Apse Photographer).
Other Things to Do in Franz Josef
If you’ve never seen a kiwi it could be worth checking out the West Coast Wildlife Centre. I’d also recommend checking out Fox Glacier – it’s only around 30 minutes south and quite similar to Franz Josef. Make sure to visit Lake Matheson if you’re heading that way.
Eating and Drinking
There’s a good selection of places to eat and drink in Franz Josef. There are some bars and restaurants on the main road (Snakebite, Full of Beans and Blue Ice are all good options), and on the backstreets you’ll find places like Alice May and Monsoon Restaurant. Most of these places have outdoor sitting areas which are awesome on a sunny summer’s day. There’s also a Four Square (small supermarket) if you’re on a budget.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!
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