Thinking about exploring one of New Zealand’s glaciers? You’re in luck. We’ve pulled together this list of 6 of the best NZ glaciers which are super accessible and waiting to be explored.

Whilst we have highlighted 6 of the best glaciers in New Zealand, an inventory in the 1980s found that there are actually more than 3,100 glaciers in New Zealand with an area of at least one hectare. As you would expect, most of the glaciers in New Zealand are located on the South Island, however, there are a handful of glaciers located on the North Island and all of them are on Mt Ruapehu. The mountain has 18 glaciers in total including one in the crater itself.

In this post, however, we are going to focus on the South Island glaciers as these are the ones that are the most popular when it comes to tourism and ease of access.

For a long time, glacier hiking in New Zealand’s South Island has been one of the most popular tourist attractions, especially for anyone visiting the West Coast. Two of the most accessible glaciers in New Zealand are located within close proximity to each other – The Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. Like many glaciers around the world, both have been retreating for a number of years now and so the experience of hiking on the glaciers has changed over the past 20 years, however, it’s still right up there with one of the best activities you can do here in New Zealand.

Let’s take a close look at 6 of the best NZ glaciers.


One of the most accessible and arguably the most famous glacier in New Zealand is Fox Glacier. Situated in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park it is approximately 13 km long and flows out into the River Fox. During the last ice age, the ice from the glacier reached all the way to the coastline! It’s the country’s most commercially guided glacier with heaps of tour operators and opportunities to visit. Whether it’s exploring the stunning blue ice caves and deep crevasses or viewing it from the air with operators like Air Safaris and Fox Franz Heliservices (both GO Play partners) you’ll be in for a memorable experience indeed.


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The Franz Josef Glacier is considered New Zealand’s glacial gem which can be found on the West Coast of the South Island. This panoramic 12 km glacier is a UNESCO World Heritage Area, giving you an indication of its beauty and significance. Like Fox Glacier, Franz Josef is one of the biggest tourist attractions on the West Coast for obvious reasons. It’s a stunning place to visit even if you don’t make it up onto the ice itself. The guided tours are great fun though and usually last 2-3 hours during which you may even spot lakes, rivers, forests and beaches too. 20 years ago, you could walk up the valley to the face of the glacier and access the ice directly on foot. Today, however, your journey to the glacier will start on a helicopter which is pretty exciting in itself. Franz and Fox are the two most popular NZ glaciers so make sure you include a trip to the West Coast on your next itinerary.


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The third glacier on our list is nothing short of a whopper. The Tasman Glacier is 23 km long and gets up to 4 km wide and 600 metres thick at points and is easily New Zealand’s largest. The tourism sector isn’t quite as prominent here as it is the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers but you can still do seasonal heli-hikes and guided tours from July – September. If you’re an experienced alpine hiker you can also choose to hike the Ball Hut Route, a 3-4 hour track that gives you awesome views of the largest glacier in the country.


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If you’re in and around the beautiful Lake Wanaka area then you’ll want to make sure you have a day free in your schedule to see the equally beautiful Rob Roy Glacier. Situated in the Mount Aspiring National Park, the glacier is much smaller than the others mentioned but makes up for it in style by the way it hangs dramatically off the edge of Rob Roy peak. The Rob Roy Track is a great way to see it in all its glory and is touted as one of the best one-day hikes in the country. The 3-4 hour return route is well marked, easy and incredibly enjoyable.


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The Hooker Glacier is another that sits on the slopes of the alps in the South Island and is around 11 km long. Much like the Rob Roy Glacier, there is a fantastic walk that you can do to see the glacier in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, called the Hooker Valley Track. The route is a 3-hour return journey with some amazing scenery along the way. The sight you see at the end of the track, however, is definitely the real reward. Standing before the peak of the mighty Aoraki/Mount Cook, the glacier itself and the terminal lake (often with floating icebergs from the glacier) you’ll be left speechless by the sheer magnificence of it all.


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The 18 km Murchison Glacier is situated on the eastern part of Mount Cook in the Southern Alps. Its meltwater, which feeds the Murchison River, actually flows under the Hooker Glacier – an interesting little fact. Boasting of bowls, peaks, icefalls and head-walls, this area provides a great opportunity for the skiing and ski mountaineering types among you. Because of this, it’s a less ‘touristy’ glacier and mostly attracts hard-core climbers and skiers. If that sounds like a bit of you then the Murchison Glacier could be just what you’re looking for.


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NZ Glaciers for the ultimate epic experience!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our short tribute to the 6 best glaciers in New Zealand. They’re well worth the effort if you’re visiting and will leave you with great photos and even better memories! We always love to hear from our intrepid GO Explorers so if you have any great stories about your experience on any of the NZ glaciers listed above, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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