If New Zealand knows how to promote one aspect of its scenery it’s the glaciers. Look at any tourist brochure or guidebook and you will no doubt find photos of people hiking, climbing or flying to Franz Josef or Fox glaciers in the South Island.

We’d had an amazing experience hiking the Athabasca Glacier in Canada and were pretty excited to see more examples of these wondrous formations.

Here’s what we thought of the three glaciers we got up close and personal with in New Zealand.

 

Franz Josef

There will probably be an audible gasp from everyone who loves Franz Josef but we really didn’t like it.

 

It was absolutely heaving with people, there was a constant procession of helicopters whirring overhead and it just wasn’t the experience we were hoping for.

 

As always everyone is different, but we prefer peace and quiet when we’re trying to experience the outdoors.

We were there in the quiet shoulder season and it was still incredibly busy.

People Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

Us and everyone else at Franz Josef

We chose to do a glacier hike in Canada purely because we thought it would be a better price than New Zealand.

A – we were right, the experiences in New Zealand are pretty steep.

B – I’m so glad we did as we got the wilderness experience we wanted in a pristine environment with only a few other people.

We did a few Department Of Conservation (DOC) trails in the area but it just wasn’t for us.

 

Franz Josef Glacier valley New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier valley

Fox

Fox is a little bit quieter than Franz Josef and we enjoyed really enjoyed the surrounding landscape.

 

There is an incredible vertical wall of rock to your right as you venture up to the glacier toe, this was formed by the glacier grinding its way through the landscape and it’s very impressive.

 

On the normal hiking trails you can get much closer to the toe than at Franz Josef and we even spotted a couple of ice climbers on the terminal face.

Fox Glacier New Zealand Group People

The huge wall of rock at Fox. The two groups of people are on the glacier guided hike

The main paid activity on Fox is a guided glacier hike and from what I’ve heard and seen it would be a good one to go for.

 

It’s slightly less expensive and reviews from other travellers have been great.

 

Even just the standard DOC hikes are really worth doing, there is a network of trails around the area so you combine a number in one day.

Ice Climbing Fox Glacier New Zealand

Ice climbing on Fox

 Rob Roy

Rob Roy is absolutely stunning, no other word for it.

It’s situated about an hour’s drive from Wanaka, mostly along gravel roads and we crossed 9 separate fords.

 

The fact that you have to make more effort to see it has the obvious effect of less people.

 

The hike we did was 10km and it took us about 3 hours with a really long lunch break gawking at the glacier.

Paul Deaton Rob Roy Glacier New Zealand

Paul checking out the info at Rob Roy

Even the drive down to the trailhead is unbelievably beautiful and you really feel like you’re in New Zealand wilderness.

Rob Roy’s terminal face hangs like an enormous ice shelf with so many waterfalls cascading down the rock.

 

My jaw literally dropped when we got our first glimpse and I said something along the lines of ‘this blows Franz Josef and Fox out of the water!’

 

Top Tip

As with most hikes set off as early as possible.

We started really early and had the whole glacier to ourselves for our break at the top, on the way back down there were a lot more people heading up.

 

Rob Roy Track New Zealand

The lovely valley at the bottom of the Rob Roy Track

The Verdict

Reflecting on our experiences with Franz Josef and Fox, it’s become obvious that the joy other people have described must be from the actual act of heli-hiking or ice climbing.

 

If you’ve never seen a glacier before and have the cash to splash then push the boat out and do one of the activities on offer.

 

We don’t feel like we’ve missed out on anything, but I think you would if you’ve never done anything like that before.

However, we would suggest that anyone visiting NZ makes the effort to visit Rob Roy, it was unforgettable.

 

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Your Guide to New Zealand's Glaciers - Two for the Road

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2 Responses

  1. Paytra

    This is exactly what I needed!
    As a first time visitor to New Zealand I am planning our trip from home, and the ‘obvious’ thing to do was to include Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers. However, some reading about Wanaka guided my attention to Rob Roy glacier and the walk towards it.
    What to do? This looked so pretty …. but I had already booked lodging near Fox Glacier.
    Your review decided it for me – we’re going to spend an extra day in Wanaka to do this walk and maybe, or maybe not do some expensive heli or skydiving tour in Fox Glacier.
    Thank you for your help!

    Reply
    • Maddie

      I hope you have a wonderful trip to New Zealand. It’s been a few years since we were there but I’m sure it’s a stunning as ever!

      Reply

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