Planning to drive to the West coast of New Zealand South Island to discover the glaciers. But here is the question: Fox glacier or Franz Josef glacier? Which one to visit? If you have the time, I recommend doing both walks. But if you don't, below is my guide to help you decide: Fox vs Franz Josef glacier.
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Fox or Franz Joseph Glacier - Battle Summary
If you don't want to read the complete article and check out all the pictures, the summary of my comparison between Fox and Franz Josef is:
- Distance from glacier at the viewpoint - Fox (but not by much)
- Views of glacier - Franz Josef
- Access road & carpark - tie
- Difficulty of the walk - Franz Josef easiest (in my opinion)
- Interest of the walk - Franz Josef
- Towns - Fox
- Activities on the glaciers - Franz Josef
- Things to do around - Fox
MY OVERALL WINNER IS FRANZ JOSEF
Best view of the tongue - Fox glacier vs Franz Josef Glacier
The main criteria to visit a glacier, is of course how well you can see it!
So l'et's have a look: where can you see it better: at Fox or Franz Josef?
Distance from the glacier edge
At both glaciers, the distances will vary.
When I visited Fox the distance from the viewpoint to the edge of the tongue was: 450m.
When I visited ranz Josef the distance from the viewpoint to the tongue was: 750m.
So Fox is closer than Franz Josef but in my opinion the views of the glacier is not as good.
However please note, that for both, if the clouds are very low, there is a risk of not seeing anything...
Fox glacier New Zealand - view of the glacier
At Fox, the top of the tongue in Fox glacier is rather flat, as you can see in the picture below, so you really only see the last wall of ice.
Plus the valley is only rocks that fall on the glacier and hide its beautiful colors
Below is a photo with the zoom.
Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand - view of the glacier
Whereas at Franz Josef, the glacier descends on a slope so you can see a bit more of the ice and it does not seem as dusty.
Below I have zoomed. This is where you realize the viewpoint is further away because I can't get the same detailed with my full zoom.
Plus at Franz Josef, even if you can't complete the whole walk to the viewpoint, you can walk for just 15min to see it in the distance (and you can even see it from the carpark). Below is the view from the the viewpoint at the end of the Forest walk.
In both case, I recommend bringing binoculars to be able to see the details or colors better. You can find my tips & recommendations in this article.
Distance is smaller for Fox. But my winner is Franz Josef.
Road Access + Carpark - Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier
Location of Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers - Map
Where are those glaciers located ?
- On the West Coast of South Island
- Between them: Fox glacier to Franz Josef = 25min drive
- Wanaka to Fox glacier = 3h30 drive
- Greymouth to Fox glacier = 2h40 drive
- Christchurch to Fox glacier = 5h30 drive
- Note there is only one road going to those glaciers: Road 6 - access is from Wanaka from the South, via Arthur's pass from the North East Coast or via Greymouth from the North West Coast. There are single lane bridges, so check out if there is any roadwork or road closure!
- Below is a map to help you better understand where it is located:
You can find practical maps with main roads and all my selected locations in my eBook, to easily plan your road trip:
Be overwhelm by the beauty, not the planning!
Both glaciers are included in my eBooks, to help you plan an unforgettable road trip:
Fox Glacier access road and carpark
From road 6, it is a short drive to the Fox Glacier carpark (3,6km). The drive is easy and the parking area practical.
Franz Josef Glacier access road and Carpark
From road 6, it is also a short drive to the Franz Josef Glacier carpark (3.6km)
The drive has some narrow section but is quite easy.
The carpark is quite large with toilets.
In terms of access, this is a tie
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- They were very nice and responsive, they pick you up and drop you off at the airport
- The car I rented was in perfect condition
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
Difficulty and interest of the walks to the glacier
Once you are at the carpark, you have to go for a walk, if you want to see and approach the glacier tongue.
In terms of difficulty, I have felt that Franz Josef was easier.
And in terms of the interest of the walk, I thought that Franz Josef was also better.
Below is my description of both hikes.
Walk to Fox Glacier
- Time: 1h30 return
- Toilets at the beginning at carpark
- You walk on the left side of the valley. The path is well maintained
- There are 2 steep slopes to climb (in both directions) and 3 river crossing (rocks and bridge).
- The difficulty will depend on the weather, but those slopes were quite steep!
- You have to cross a rock avalanche area.
All along the way, you can see signs of where the tongue of the glacer used to be.
Interests of the walk (apart from the glacier):
- The view of the valley as you walk back
- There is also a section near trees where you may spot Fantail birds.
Walk to Franz Josef Glacier
- You can already see the top of the glacier from the carpark
- Time: 30min return for the distance viewpoint at the end of the Forest walk
- Time: 1h30 return to the glacier tongue viewpoint
- Toilets at the carpark
- Path is easy at the beginning. Towards the end you have to cross the river bed (which might be difficult depending on conditions)
- There is one steep but short slope in the middle and a longer slope to climb to the viewpoint.
However I have found the Franz Josef glacier walk much more entertaining with:
- Almost constant views of the glacier
- a forest,
- waterfalls right by the side of the trail
- amazing rock formations with a large variety of colors (compared to the mostly grey of Fox)
Towns - Should you stay in Fox Glacier or Franz Josef?
Now let's start talking about all the things around the glaciers.
As I say I recommend visiting both and spending one night either in Fox or in Franz Josef.
If you love photography, I recommend Fox so that you can enjoy Lake Matheson at sunrise (see further down in the article).
However for accommodations surrounded by forest, I recommend Franz Josef.
Town of Fox glacier New Zealand - and Accommodations
I have found the town of Fox glacier more peaceful than Franz Josef and that it looked less of a tourist hub (despite being one).
The shops are along the main road. You can find a small grocery shop, gaz station, restaurants...
Accommodations in Fox Glacier
I stayed in Fox Glacier at the Rainforest Motel. The room was well equipped, clean, large and easy to walk to the main street - Check out photos and availability
There are mostly motels in the area. Other suggestions:
Town of Franz Josef New Zealand - and Accommodations
Franz Josef is a bigger town and where most touristic bus stop, so it has more of a touristic town vibe.
You can find a large choice of accommodations, gaz station, shops, restaurants...
It is surrounded by forest, and you can pamper at the end of the day at the hot pools - Get your ticket
Accommodations in Franz Josef
- The Aspen court surrounded by native trees and bush - Check out pictures and availability
- The 58 on Cron Motel with spacious studios and apartments - Check out pictures and availability
- for a 5 stars, The Te Waonui forest retreat - Check out pictures and availability
- or check out the accommodations in Franz Josef
Activities on Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
I think the 2 walks are already fantastic activities.
But if you are looking for something more, to experience the glaciers more up close, below are some suggestions.
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers Heli Hikes
Both Fox and Franz Josef are famous for their helicopter flights and landings on the glaciers. They start close to the the towns, so the flight are short an they can do many in a day.
You will be able to see the mountains of the Southern Alps, with the giant glaciers. Landings are at around 2100m (7000ft).
This is one of the most sought after activities in New Zealand, so plan ahead! The best time slots go fast in Summer.
- Check out options at Fox Glacier on Getyourguide or on Viator
- Check out options at Franz Josef Glacier on Getyourguide or on Viator
- And if you can't choose one or the other, you can even do a twin glacier flight - check out details and book!
Which one to choose? Reviews are excellent for both glaciers. If the weather is on your side, you should enjoy either.
I recommend booking where you are planning to stay for convenience.
Fox and Franz Josef Glacier Hikes
There is also the possibility to complete a glacier hike.
However you are allowed inside the glacier only with a tour guide.
Spots are limited, equipment is provided and you should have a reasonable fitness level for this incredible experience!
Other things to do in the areas of Fox and Franz Josef
The main attractions of the region are the glaciers, but know that there are other things you can enjoy between them.
Lake Matheson at Fox Glacier
The other famous location is Lake Matheson.
Located just 10min drive from Fox Glacier town, Lake Matheson is well-known for its reflection of the Alps.
You have probably already seen photos from there.
Sadly, both times I went, the clouds were low and the wind not idea for reflections.
Lake Matheson is the reason why I recommend that photographers stay at Fox. You want to have a short drive early morning to try and capture the beauty of the place. And even if the clouds are low, the walk in the forest is beautiful and still worth it.
- Note that the end of the road is unpaved. But still easy.
- To the deck it is a 50min walk return from the carpark through enchanting forest.
- Or you can complete the whole loop around the lake for 1h30 to 1h45
- Toilets and café near the carpark
- If you don't turn to the Lake and keep driving on the unpaved road, you will reach another viewpoint of the mountains
Franz Josef also offers some other activities to consider:
Alternative to Fox and Franz Josef - Tasman glacier
As I said earlier, there is only 1 road going to those glaciers and it is quite a detour.
If you don't have the time to complete the drive, you can still see some glaciers on the other side of the Alps. If you are going to Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook village, you will see glaciers:
- The Tasman glacier with its lake - you are further away from the tongue, but it is the easiest to access (15min walk up staircases) and offers magnificent views of the valley - bring binoculars!
- The Hooker glacier, also with lake - the track takes 3h return with magnificent views if the clouds are up (which they were not when I did it...
Lake Matheson, the viewpoint, the Hooker glacier walk and the Tasman glacier is also included in my eBooks:
Be overwhelm by the beauty, not the planning!
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Which one will you choose?
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