Strapping on crampons immediately draws my mind to Sir Edmund Hillary. Unlike the famous mountaineer, my use of crampons is simply for a 2-hour hike on the Franz Josef Glacier, in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the South Island, New Zealand. Let’s face it…. crampons are not your normal footwear, but they play a crucially important role when hiking on ice and exploring ice caves and crevasses. The glacial hike paired with the helicopter flight is known as the Franz Josef Heli Hike. This world-renowned adventure is a privilege to behold and definetly a highlight of our holiday in Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers are part of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, a recognised World Heritage-listed area. The park extends from the highest peaks of the Southern Alps, to the remote beaches of the wild West Coast. It is a region of magnificent rugged vistas – snow-capped mountains, glaciers, forests, tussock grasslands, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and beaches. The glaciers are equivalent in latitude to the south of France, which is an unusual location to find glaciers that extend down to temperate rainforest and finish just above sea level! You can expect lots of rain in this area (after all rain & snow is what feeds the glaciers, rainforests and waterfalls), so it is best to allow a few days in the region so you have the flexibility to ensure you don’t miss your Franz Josef Heli Hike.
The Glaciers are unique relics of the last ice age…
Rivers of solid white, tumbling down ice-hewn rock valleys, they are beautiful and mighty… and are undeniably a must see. Franz Josef Glacier (Kā Roimata ō Hine Hukatere) is one of the steepest glaciers in New Zealand, and it moves faster than your average glacier at around 50cm per day. This creates some truly incredible features in the glacier such as ice caves, tunnels, seracs and crevasses. Both the Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers have retreated drastically over the last 100 years and consequently, neither of the glaciers are accessible from the valley floor. All glacier experiences now involve a helicopter flight. The Franz Josef Heli Hike is a combination of an exhilarating helicopter flight with glacier landing (5 minute duration) which is operated by the Helicopter Line, and a unique guided walk amongst the ice caves and spectacular glacier features (2-hour total ice time), with expert guided services from Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Perfect for families and children 8 years plus, expect a 3-hour experience that is both unforgettable and awe-inspiring.
It’s a team effort! The companies behind the tour….
The Helicopter Line is the largest Kiwi owned Heli company in New Zealand, as well as the biggest provider of scenic flights in the country. Many of the scenic flight options are within New Zealand’s national parks which means easy access to some of the most iconic landscapes a reality which may not otherwise be accessible. The Helicopter Line works closely with the Department of Conservation as well as contributing to the local community activities & events.
Franz Josef Glacier Guides is an internationally recognized guiding operation, established in 1990. They have exclusive guiding access to Franz Josef Glacier, combining traditional guiding techniques unique to Aotearoa (New Zealand) with modern innovations, and provide access to remote glacier terrain that would normally only be accessible to experienced mountaineers. Franz Josef Glacier Guides is owned by Ngāi Tahu Tourism, a company owned by the biggest iwi (Māori tribe) by population in the South Island of Aotearoa.
So, for spectacular scenery and some elusive blue ice experience please make sure a visit to Franz Josef and the Heli Hike is on your bucket list for your next trip to New Zealand.
Good to know:
Franz Josef is 5 hours north of Queenstown and is famous for the stunning scenic drive through Wanaka, to Haast and on to Fox & Franz Josef Glaciers. This is glacier country and a must-do is to view one or both glaciers if in the region. It is only a 30-minute drive between both glaciers so why not do both? To allow for optimum weather conditions, we recommend staying for 2 nights. The Franz Josef region has many activities on offer including: glacier valley walk or Heli Hike, catch a scenic flight, view spectacular waterfalls in the rainforest on numerous short hikes, see the Glowworms, Kayak on Lake Mapourika, meet the Kiwi birds and get plenty of Insta-ready photos at Lake Matheson! Read more