Independent Walks

A series of walks start from the glacier car park, 5km from the village. Sentinel Rock (20 minutes return) reveals either impressive views of the glacier valley or a mysterious panorama swallowed by mist and cloud. Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Track (1½ hours return), the main glacier valley walk, leads you to the best permissible view of the terminal face.

Other walks include the Douglas Walk (one hour return), off the Glacier Access Rd, which passes moraine piled up by the glacier's advance in 1750, and Peters Pool, a small kettle lake. The Terrace Track (30 minutes return) is an easy amble over bushy terraces behind the village, with Waiho River views. Two good rainforest walks, Callery Gorge Walk and Tatare Tunnels (both around 1½ hours return), start from Cowan St – bring a torch for the latter.

Much more challenging walks, such as the five-hour Roberts Point Track and eight-hour Alex Knob Track, are detailed, along with all the others, in DOC's excellent Glacier Region Walks booklet ($2, or download at www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/west-coast/glacier-region-walks.pdf), which provides maps and illuminating background reading.

A rewarding alternative to driving to the glacier car park is the richly rainforested Te Ara a Waiau Walkway/Cycleway, starting from near the fire station at the south end of town. It's a one-hour walk (each way) or half that by bicycle. Leave your bikes at the car park – you can't cycle on the glacier walkways. When we passed through, bike hire wasn't easy to come by and folks were recommending rental from Fox Glacier Lodge (per hour/half-day $5/15), 24km south. Ask in the i-SITE for the latest.

Guided Walks & Helihikes

Franz Josef Glacier Guides runs small group walks with experienced guides (boots, jackets and equipment supplied). With dazzling blue ice, photo ops in ice caves, and helicopter rides to and from the ice, this might be one of your most memorable experiences in NZ. The standard trip involves three hours of guided rambling on the ice ($459); the daring can seize an ice pick for a five-hour ice-climbing tour (adults only, $575). If you don't need to get on the ice, choose a three-hour guided valley walk (adult/child $75/65). Glacier Valley Eco Tours offers a similar experience, a 3½-hour ramble by the river and into native forest. Conservation-focused commentary on local flora and geological forces enlivens the journey, which is rewarded by a steaming cuppa sipped in view of the glacier face.

Aerial Sightseeing

Forget sandflies and mozzies, the buzzing you’re hearing is a swarm of small aircraft. The most affordable scenic flights involve 10 or 12 minutes in the air above Franz Josef Glacier (around $120 to $165) but it's worth paying for 20 minutes or more to get a snow landing or to view both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers (from $245). Pricier, 40-minute flights enjoy the most eye-popping views (around $370 to $460), swooping around Aoraki/Mt Cook. Fares for children under 12 years usually cost around 70% of the adult price. Shop around: most operators are situated on the main road.