We spent a week at Glacier Country, NZ, in July 2016. Here’s our guide to the beautiful area of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, NZ, with kids.
We came from Southern Lakes region to Franz Josef Glacier. It’s an amazing drive, really beautiful. It has roads on the mountains, rivers, trees, waterfalls, wineries, farms and charming little towns.
Really close to Fox Glacier, we were driving through this mountain road, and found it amazing and full of snow. It was our only encounter with snow on this trip, but a super enjoyable one. We parked the car and did a little snow fight that left our bare hands freezing. Worth it, though!
Our guide to Fox and Franz Josef Glacier (NZ) with kids
Where to stay near the Glaciers in NZ with kids
Our cottage was this one, in Franz Josef Glacier. It has amazing views of the glaciers, friendly ponies (and horses, but they didn’t really care about us), cute dogs, great heater and even a small playground.
The shower had great water pressure and it had mostly everything we needed. Our host came in every 2 days to hand out fresh towels and collect the rubbish.
There was 1 thing that was annoying: someone spilled milk on the couch and, when we got there, it was smelling like cheese. It was bearable for the few days we were there.
(If you’re new to Airbnb, click here to receive a discount on your first booking – and we receive one too, without any additional cost to you!)
What to do in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier Areas
The towns are pretty small, so don’t expect much.
Amongst the things to do in Franz Josef, there you can ride a helicopter, walk over the glacier, enjoy a hot pool, visit a wildlife center and see a kiwi, and walk a lot. There are also a few restaurants, a small supermarket, a few souvenir shops and guides.
Fox Glacier is an even smaller town than Franz Josef. There were a few cafés and restaurants, one or two stores selling tours, and that was that. For that reason, we spent most of our time in Franz Josef.
There aren’t many free things to do in Franz Josef nor in Fox Glacier other than the walks, but they are beautiful and there are some easy and family friendly ones!
Family friendly walks around Franz Josef
- We did the Terrace Walk, Franz Josef, which is a short walk in the bush. It reaches a small and super charming waterfall and creek. We spent a long time playing by the creek. A great walk for children of all ages. It’s a fairytale walk during the day.
After dark, you might be able to see some glow worms. We tried, but it was too dark and scary for us and there were some teenagers playing tricks, so we left.
- Peters Pool walk, a short walk (20 minutes return) that takes us to this amazing kettle lake. It’s just gorgeous, and when it’s not too windy, the lake is a perfect mirror, so you can see the mountains covered in snow and the trees. Just gorgeous, it can probably be done with a stroller – though it’s so short…
- You can carry on walking after Peters Pool, through Douglas Walk. It’s not a hard walk, just full of hills and it gets tiring. Somewhere along the way, we got to Douglas Bridge. It was NOT the most pleasant experience for me, but the kids loved it, so I think it was worth it. Anyway, we crossed it and had to cross back because the next part of that track (Robert Point Track) was for experienced and well-equipped hikers only – and I’m sure they didn’t mean people with 4 kids complaining they were tired and an empty bottle of water.
But the Douglas Walk, Franz Josef, is a loop, and it takes around 1 hour. It’s an easy but tiring walk.
- We did, of course, the Franz Josef Glacier Walk. It’s a good 1,5-hour track, through a sunny valley, with waterfalls and mossy rocks and a river. Lovely walk, through a rocky surface. Not the easiest, but stunning. Not for strollers either!
We spent quite a while close by the safety barrier of the lookout. I must say, the glacier itself wasn’t the most amazing thing. It had very little ice – and it was far away (750 meters, the sign said). It’s super full of rocks. Every size of rocks. The beginning of the track is the most amazing part. The end of it is rocky and gray and not much other than that. Plus, the helicopters…. So many helicopters….
It’s doable with little kids, but they may need to be carried through parts of it.
What to do in Fox Glacier
- The Fox Glacier walk is a whole other thing. Right at the beginning, there’s an area where you shouldn’t stop due to rockfall. Then, by the end of it, a 400 meter climb where you shouldn’t stop either. That was a killer.
We got up there and collapsed. I had to lay down on a rock for around 10 minutes before my legs started responding again. The walk was really cool, through slippery rocks all the way, but crossing creeks was an awesome experience and fun for the kids.
It was a lot closer than the Franz Josef glacier, so that was cool as well, but there were so many people there it was hard to get a photo without people bumping into us or photobombing. It was a really cool experience, even though super tiring.
Only for kids who can walk well or those with strong parents to carry them. It’s an hour-long track with a few places where you can’t stop, so talk to your kid about it before heading there!
- We also went to the Peak View Lookout, a nice – and car reachable – place with amazing views of Mount Cook, Mount Tasman, and Fox Glacier. There were even chairs and a picnic table. Must be glorious during sunset. I can’t express the gratitude I felt towards it being car reachable because we went there right after our Fox Glacier experience!
Where to eat in Glacier Country, NZ
- We ate, in Fox Glacier, at Café Nevé. The food was OK, but the service was great. The kids loved the drawings on the boards, super cool.
- Then, in Franz Josef, we had coffee at the Snake Bite. It’s a warm place, with a good menu and good hot chocolate and coffee. The service was OK. I had this lunch menu rice bread with duck and veggies that were delicious.
- And lastly, The Landing. Oh, so good food! It was the best food we’ve had in a while. And the dessert? LOVED it! Beautiful and delicious. I’m sorry we didn’t take any photos, it was because we just couldn’t wait. We were there once for a full meal and once for dessert only because it was Jose’s birthday and he wanted it. It’s the most expensive place we’ve been here, but quite worth it. The service was also great.
Fox Glacier vs Franz Josef Glacier
Well, they’re both beautiful and worth a visit. They’re both free, but donations are appreciated. If you can, visit both.
But the thing is that not always we can, so if you’re deciding between Franz Josef vs Fox Glacier, I’ll give my PERSONAL view.
Franz Josef Glacier Walk was one of the most beautiful walks we’ve done so far. It’s a dream scenery, with mossy rocks, a grey-blue river, waterfalls. Even though it was longer, taking around 1,5 hour, we walked alright from beginning to end.
Fox Glacier Walk, on the other hand, was a little bit harder since we couldn’t stop everywhere. It was also less scenic, with mostly rocks and boulders and everything was grey all around. There were a few creeks here and there and crossing them was fun but we found it a lot more tiring and boring.
Neither walk was doable with a stroller but fine for kids who can walk for an hour or longer.
The glaciers, on the other hand, were the opposite. While Franz Josef Glacier was far, far away and covered in rocks, Fox Glacier was a lot closer (to the viewpoint, that is) and cleaner. It does change, though. The glaciers move a lot, so check while you’re there.
Think about what you and your family want most, check out the distance of the glacier when you’re there and decide from them.
To finish it…
It’s a beautiful place, with not many free activities (other than walking). The heli-rides and guided walks also have an age limit, and Coral (4) was way too young for any of them. Check carefully with the providers before coming with a small child. The minimun age varied according to the activity, but it was between 6 and 8 years old.
- City / Country
- Minimun Stay
- $ ~ $$$
- Best local transport option
- Do we recommend it?
- Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers / New Zealand
- 2 days
- For older kids (8+), it’s fine. The little ones may have to accept walks and the very little playground in town
- If you stick to the path, it’s perfectly safe.