Situated in the spectacular Southern Alps, The Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is a breath-taking site of natural beauty. New Zealand is known across the globe for its magnificent scenery and dramatic landscape and the glaciers of New Zealand are a prime example. Take a look below at our fascinating facts about the glacier and we can guarantee you’ll want to take a tour visiting the Franz Josef glacier on you next trip to the South Island, New Zealand.


  • The Maori name for the glacier is “Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere”, which means “the tears of Hine Hukatere”.


  • The Maori legend of the Franz Josef glacier formation says that Hine Hukatere loved to climb mountains, and convinced her love Wawe to join her on one of her climbs. During this climb, Wawe was swept away by an avalanche, never to be seen again. Hine Hukatere was so heartbroken that she began to cry, and eventually the tears which fell then froze to form the glacier that stands today.


  • The Franz Josef Glacier is approximately 7000 years old and is a massive 12 kilometres long. Where the ice descends and meets the river valley below it reaches to less than 300 metres above sea level. The ecosystem around the glacier is extremely unique due to the combination of the ice meeting the Waiho River and the surrounding rainforest.


franz josef glaicer close up ice


  • The glacier is situated in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park located on the western coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This national park also happens to one of the four national parks which when combined create Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site which gained its status back in 1990 due to its significant biodiversity.


  • Franz Josef is the steepest and fastest moving glacier in New Zealand. The steep form of the glacier creates the perfect conditions for ice flow. One impressive Franz Josef glacier fact is that this glacier has been recorded as moving up to 4 metres per day. This is a stark difference from the average glacier moving at around 50cm to 1 metre per day!


  • German explorer and geologist Julius von Haast named the glacier after Franz Joseph I, the Austrian emperor back in 1865. The small town situated just 5 kilometres from the glacier bears the same name and is the ideal stopping spot for a visit to the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and the glacier itself.


  • Luckily for visitors, this glacier region in New Zealand is one of the most accessible on earth. Sitting at a low altitude this impressive sight can be explored easily by foot with a walk or a hike. If you’d prefer a birds-eye view then you can always take a helicopter tour of the glacier and maybe get a glimpse of the nearby and equally impressive Fox Glacier.


franz josef glacier mist walkers


It’s easy to see from these fascinating facts about Franz Josef Glacier why it is such a popular spot for visitors in New Zealand. Feasting your eyes upon this vast glacier and the surrounding scenery is a sight you will not be able to experience elsewhere. Once you’ve seen the glacier, there is no need to rush off to your next stop as there are plenty of other things to do in Franz Josef such as relaxing in the glacier hot pools at the end of an action-packed day.

Take a look at all of the New Zealand tours Distant Journeys have on offer here.