In the Maori language, the glacier is called “Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere.” This means “the tears of Hine Hukatere.”
This 12km long glacier began forming approximately 7,000 years ago, about 2,400 years before the invention of writing and the beginning of recorded human history.
Hine Hukatere was climbing a mountain with her love, Wawe, when he was swept away by an avalanche (hence the abundance of tears.)
The glacier was named a German explorer named Julius von Haast, after the Austrian emperor in 1865.
What makes Franz Josef unique?
Franz Josef is the fastest moving and steepest glacier in all of New Zealand. It has been recorded as moving up to 4 metres in one day. (Compare this to most glaciers, which move at an average speed of around 50 cm to one metre per day, and Franz Josef seems pretty speedy!)
This means the landscape is constantly changing and no hike in this region is ever the same from one day to the next. Plus, where else in the world can you visit a rainforest, a beach and a glacier - all in the same day?
Location and how to get there
More than 250,000 visitors per year travel to Franz Josef to admire this enormous sheet of ice. Here are a few of the routes you can take to get here:
Nearest Airport: Hokitika, a 2 hour drive away. Flights available from anywhere in New Zealand.
Nearest Train Station: Greymouth (via the TranzAlpine), 2.5 hours drive away.
Christchurch to Franz Josef: 5+ hours without stopping to admire the views. (We recommend taking your time to enjoy the route and staying overnight in Punakaiki.)
Abel Tasman/Nelson to Franz Josef: We recommend breaking up this 300 mile route with a night or two in Paparoa National Park, giving you the chance to really enjoy the scenery.
Queenstown to Franz Josef: 5+ hours on hilly and windy roads - not our favourite route. We recommend traveling from Wanaka to Franz Josef instead as this route includes the ‘Heritage Highway’ and is much more relaxed and scenic. You can even stop for hikes at Fantail Falls, Blue Pools, Thunder Creek, the Gates of Haast and many other gorgeous spots.
What to pack
A t-shirt and a light fleece to wear overtop (layers are key because the temperatures can fluctuate quickly).
A wooly jumper (that’s 'Kiwi Speak' for a warm sweater.)
A waterproof windbreaker layer.
Cotton pants or track pants (jeans are not recommended as they become heavy and cold if they get wet.)
Sturdy hiking shoes or boots (if you plan to hike on the glacier itself, your tour guide will supply the appropriate equipment).