From the inspiring Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier nestled amidst lush rainforests to the stunning expanse of the Tasman Glacier, let us introduce you to New Zealand's finest icy giants. In this blog, we will be delving into the incredible world of NZ's glaciers, offering valuable insights into the best places to see these frozen marvels, and highlighting the best tourist train to reach them.
Why New Zealand Glaciers should be on your bucket list
New Zealand's glaciers are a natural wonder that should undoubtedly make your bucket list. Their unique accessibility allows for an intimate encounter with glacial formations, a rarity in most parts of the world. Here, you can hike or even take a helicopter ride to the top, offering an unforgettable experience that puts you face-to-face with nature's grandeur.
New Zealand's glaciers are set in some of the world's most striking landscapes—think emerald rainforests and towering mountain ranges. You'll be in heaven if you're into outdoor adventure. From ice-climbing to guided glacial walks, New Zealand's glaciers provide an exhilarating way to engage with these monumental ice forms.
Picture yourself on guided hikes, treading upon the glacier's surface, or soaring through the skies on exhilarating helicopter rides, drinking in the panoramic views of the icy landscapes. Traverse captivating ice tunnels, and witness the cascading glacial meltwater as it forms glittering waterfalls. You can even don a pair of crampons and experience guided ice climbing for the adventure of a lifetime. Each moment of your glacial experience will leave you with lifelong memories of your epic glacial escape.
New Zealand's glaciers hold more than their visual appeal, they hold a great environmental significance. As vital sources of freshwater, these frozen wonders contribute to the country's hydroelectric power generation and support delicate downstream ecosystems. Water levels in Lake Pukaki have been elevated by 9 meters to serve hydropower needs, fed by Hooker, Mueller, Murchison, and Tasman Glaciers. Both Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki harness glacier-fed waters for energy production. By visiting the glaciers, you get a chance to appreciate the crucial role they play in maintaining environmental balance.
The Best Way to Explore Glaciers in New Zealand
Embark on an unrivalled glacial escapade with Great Journeys New Zealand trains, rail packages and train tours.
Board the iconic TranzAlpine train and glide through the Southern Alps and Greymouth, the majestic gateways to the glacial regions. Your adventure will begin the moment you step aboard. As the train traverses snow-capped mountains, lush beech forests, and picturesque valleys and plains, your adventure has already begun. Discover parts of New Zealand you would have never known existed, off the beaten track by rail.
Franz Josef Glacier
Named as one of the most accessible glaciers in New Zealand, this impressive natural attraction stretches 10.5 kilometers and descends from 3,000 meters to just 240 meters above sea level. Remarkably, it ends just 19 kilometers from the coast, a rare proximity to the ocean that it shares with Fox Glacier.
From the TranzAlpine train station in Greymouth, hire a car, or pre-arrange local transportation to experience an unforgettable excursion. Franz Josef can be accessed without a tour by heading to the National Park. Enjoy the glacier walk on your own, or opt for a guided hike, heli-hike, or a scenic flight. It's one of the best things to do in New Zealand in winter, but can also be done anytime throughout the year.
Located just 24 km from Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier stands as another jewel in the crown of New Zealand's South Island.
Fox Glacier's star attraction is its remarkably rapid pace of movement, creating a dynamic river of ice that
is constantly transforming. The interplay of heavy snowfall above and melting ice below means that Fox Glacier’s movement averages about 4 metres per day in comparison to Franz Josef which averages just 50 centimetres per day.
Like Franz Josef, there are many ways to explore the glacier. It is a moderate 2.6 km return walk to the terminal face of the glacier. There are guided hikes, ice climbing, scenic flights, or you can even take the plunge and tandem skydive over the glacier!
Fox Glacier from a far
Just a stone's throw from Fox Glacier, the enchanting Lake Matheson unveils nature's masterpiece: perfectly
mirrored reflections of New Zealand's highest peaks, Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Tasman. The still waters of the lake provide an ideal canvas for calm days to create these mesmerising reflections.
If you've opted to discover Lake Matheson, then you're in for a treat. This magnificent spectacle is a result of natural processes, as organic matter leaches from the surrounding native forest floor, creating a unique blend of elements. Mornings are best for that Insta-perfect image.
After your 1 1/2 hour meander around the lake, make sure to grab a coffee and a full kiwi breakfast from Matheson Café! Positioned at the entrance to the Lake Matheson Walkway, this charming eatery offers not only delectable food but also unrivalled vistas of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. Operating seven days a week from 8:30 a.m., indulge in the array of breakfast and lunch options, all prepared using seasonal ingredients.
Other Must-See Glaciers
Hitting the road to explore New Zealand's lesser-known glaciers? You're in for a treat. Whether you're cruising in a car or navigating in a motorhome, you'll find these glacier locales welcoming with well-marked parking spots and clearly defined trailheads—your perfect starting point for an icy adventure.
The freedom of a road trip lets you take pit stops at charming towns and picturesque natural landmarks. So, whether you're setting out from Christchurch, Queenstown, or another idyllic locale, don't miss the opportunity to discover these hidden glacial gems that equally deserve a spot on your bucket list.
Nestled within Mount Cook National Park, the Tasman Glacier is a breathtaking spectacle not to be missed. Departing Christchurch, your road trip to Mount Cook Village will take you past Fairlie where you can enjoy a hot pie before making your way alongside the blue lake of Pukaki.
Head off on a self-guided experience to view New Zealand's longest glacier on one of New Zealand's best short walks.
Another gem within Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is the Hooker Glacier. To reach this impressive glacier, take the same route as the Tasman Glacier through Lake Tekapo. Make sure to stop at the famous Church of the Good Shepherd on your journey for some photos!
Once you arrive at Mount Cook Village, head off on a three-hour return journey on the Hooker Valley Track to enjoy the landscapes of the Southern Alps along alpine streams and glaciers. Witness the beauty of Hooker Glacier surrounded by towering mountains, turquoise lakes, and alpine flora, a must-visit for any traveller on a New Zealand South Island winter itinerary.
Rob Roy Glacier
In Wanaka, Rob Roy Glacier is worth mentioning for its unparalleled beauty. If you're on your great journey around the South Island, then set off from Christchurch aboard the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth. From there, hire a care and drive along the wild West Coast and through the impressive Haast Pass to Wanaka.
Once you reach Rob Roy Glacier in Mount Aspiring National Park, the views will be unmatched. This trail provides a simple path into a stunning alpine setting featuring snowy areas, glaciers, steep rock cliffs, and waterfalls.
Respect the Environment
Glaciers are delicate ecosystems that require respect and preservation.
When you visit these iconic locations, make sure to minimise your impact by following Leave No Trace principles:
- Carry out any waste you produce
- Respect wildlife and vegetation, and leave the area as you found it.
- By treading lightly and respecting the environment, you contribute to the conservation of these natural wonders, ensuring that future generations can also marvel at their beauty.
Ready to explore New Zealand Glaciers?
Ready to embark on an unforgettable glacier exploration?
New Zealand's glaciers showcase some of the world's best views, set against a backdrop of towering mountains and verdant forests, creating surreal landscapes.
Travel there by NZ rail to experience your perfect gateway to see glaciers in New Zealand. Remember to plan ahead, prioritise safety, and respect the delicate ecosystems to optimise your glacier journey. Whether you're a local seeking a holiday by rail or an international traveller searching for things to do in New Zealand in winter, secure your seat now by booking a scenic train ride through New Zealand.
Travel by train to experience the wonder of New Zealand's glaciers
Where are the Southern Alps in New Zealand?
The Southern Alps are a mountain range that runs along the western side of the South Island. They stretch for about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the top of the South Island, near Nelson, down to the bottom of the island, close to Fiordland. The Southern Alps are the backbone of the South Island and contain many of New Zealand's highest peaks and glaciers, including Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country's tallest mountain. The range also forms a natural barrier, influencing the weather patterns between the West Coast and the eastern regions of the South Island.