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19 Places to Stop Between Queenstown and Franz Josef

19 Places to Stop Between Queenstown and Franz Josef

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Driving from Queenstown to Franz Josef is an absolute must – it’s on my list of top things to do in New Zealand for a very good reason! While the 350-kilometer-long (217-mile) drive takes upwards of 5 hours to drive without stopping, with all the stops along the way it’s easy to turn this trip into a whole-day affair.

In fact, you can take this a step further – I highly recommend stopping and spending the night in some of the towns along the way and turning this into an overnight or multi-day adventure. Some of the best places to visit on the South Island are on this route, and it’s easily one of the best road trips you can do on the South Island!

The only problem with the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef is that it can be a little confusing to know exactly where and when to stop. With such windy roads, attractions can quickly creep up on you, and before you know it, you’ve passed them! It’s a problem I had the first few times I did this epic road trip.

So in this blog, I’ll list 19 of the best stops on the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef. With stops at the gorgeous Blue Pools, some of New Zealand’s best waterfalls, and no less than two glaciers, this list has got it all! And the best part? You won’t miss a thing!

Related Read: Spending time in Queenstown before you set off? Check out my guide to the best things to do in Queenstown!

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About the Drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef

The drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef is a super popular route in New Zealand, used by many on their way to explore the stunning West Coast of New Zealand. From Queenstown, Franz Josef is 351 kilometers away (218 miles) and the drive without stopping takes between 4.5 to 5 hours.

The road itself is pretty windy, and it passes lots of lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and viewpoints, making it one of the best drives in NZ.

A common mistake most travelers make is not allowing enough time for the drive. 4.5 hours is the quickest you can go if you don’t stop or get stuck in traffic. For most people though, the drive will take much longer and to do it properly requires enough stops to make the trip take a full 7 to 10 hours.

Of course, if you want to go on a hike, enjoy the best things to do in Wanaka, or spend time relaxing at the river, spreading the journey over 2 to 3 days is a great idea.

It’s important to know that the highway to Franz Josef is single-lane the entire way, with very sharp bends and blind corners. In bad weather, you should take it slow, and during rain, be sure to check weather reports as major slips do happen on this route. These can cause flooding and close the highway from time to time.

When it comes to arranging transport, my go-to option is renting out a car, as this will be your ticket to flexible travel at your own pace! You can spend as much time in each location as you like, and can blast your favorite tunes while you enjoy this epic road trip.

So if you’re looking to rent a car in New Zealand, I highly recommend Discover Cars for this. I’ve had great luck with them! For this road trip, you’ll want to look for car rentals in Queenstown, since that’s your starting point.

Another option to get from Queenstown to Franz Josef is to take the bus. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include stops at many of the great places I’ve mentioned below, but is pretty cheap, with tickets costing around $112 NZD per person. If you’re just looking to get straight to Franz Josef, then this is an option worth considering.

But if you’re like me and fancy a bit of an adventure, then renting a car is the way to go. I’m sure you’ll enjoy turning this drive into an epic road trip! The West Coast is a wild place and for those who love adventure, it’s going to be one road trip you remember for the rest of your life.

Queenstown to Franz Josef FAQs

Beautiful views over Lake Matheson, New Zealand
Beautiful views over Lake Matheson, New Zealand

19 Best Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef

1. Crown Range (summit and lookout)

Bailey smiles at the camera at Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
This was the first-ever view I got of Queenstown when I first arrived!
Bailey at Crown Range Road Scenic Lookout
It’s the most beautiful view of my home!

The famous Crown Range Road, which brings you from Queenstown to Wanaka, is the highest main highway in New Zealand and is known for its narrow twists and turns and steep hills. It’s definitely an interesting drive, and I’d recommend you have a few years of experience driving before you give this a go! As you can imagine, though, the highest road in the country is filled with epic views.

Arrow Junction Lookout and Crown Range Lookout are two fantastic stops along this road that offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains. At the Arrow Junction Lookout, you can park your car at the small pullover bay and enjoy the views over the Wakatipu Basin (pictured above).

Next up, you can continue up the road to Crown Range Lookout for views over the entire valley. There’s a car park here, from which you can walk the short narrow path to Crown Range Summit too. It’s quite steep but will only take you under 20 minutes and, in my opinion, is so worth it!

Further up the Crown Range Road is the Summit Lookout, which at over 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) has exceptional views of the Crown Range Valley. You may even spot a cheeky Kea (New Zealand’s own alpine parrot) as they are notorious at this beautiful spot. Just keep an eye on your car keys as these pretty birds like to grab them!

2. Cardrona Hotel

Bailey enjoys a glass of wine at the Cardrona Hotel
The beer garden at the Cardrona Hotel!
Ice cold beer at the Cardrona Hotel
Oh, how I love you, summer!

Said to be the most photographed building in all of New Zealand, stopping at the Cardrona Hotel for a photo is a rite of passage for most travelers in New Zealand. I also recommend taking a photo next door at the Cardrona Church and Hall, which too dates back to the late 1800s.

The Cardrona Hotel is actually one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels, built back in 1863 during the gold rush era. It houses an excellent restaurant, with an award-winning menu. I highly recommend their pulled pork burger or nachos – perfect road trip fuel!

But if you don’t have time to stop for a full meal, then it’s still a great stop for a coffee in their awesome beer garden (or a cheeky beer if you’re not driving). In fact, the Cardrona Hotel is famous for its huge selection of craft beer from around the area, and I rate them pretty highly!

Related Read: Love craft beer? Check out our guide on where to drink the best craft beer in Queenstown!

3. Bradrona

Two people at Bradrona near Wanaka, New Zealand
There are so many bras!

A short walk or drive from the Cardrona Hotel is what is locally known as “Bradrona”. Yep, you guessed it, there are lots of bras here. There are over 800 bras (at last count) hanging on this fence –  this tradition is said to have been started by passing tourists in late 1998 and has raised lots of money for breast cancer research.

This is a quick and fun stop-off point where you can stretch out your legs and even leave a parting gift behind if you fancy (no judging here!).

Just around the corner from the infamous bra fence, you’ll find the meeting point for one of the best horse riding experiences on the South Island, this 3.5-hour high country horse riding trek! With over 200 5-star reviews, if riding across the stunning plains surrounding Cardrona sounds like a dream come true, then this is the tour for you.

You do not have to have any horse riding experience prior to this trek, as the horses are allocated to you based on your skill level. And instead of just walking, you’ll get to do some trotting and cantering too, which makes for quite a cool ride!

At $579 NZD per person, this tour isn’t the cheapest, but if you have a passion for horse riding or simply fancy a super unique experience out in the New Zealand countryside, then this might just be it. You can check availability and book your spot online here.

4. Wanaka

The lone Wanaka Tree during the day
Unfortunately, the tree has lost a few branches since this photo was taken. The worst part is it was vandalized!

Known for its gorgeous views of Lake Wanaka and with Mt Aspiring National Park on its doorstep, Wanaka is one destination on this road trip you don’t want to miss. It’s extremely popular with tourists and has recently been giving neighboring Queenstown a run for its money in the popularity department.

With a relaxed atmosphere and tons of things to do in Wanaka, the town’s popularity has risen in recent years as more and more travelers look for that slightly less chaotic travel experience.

Wanaka is also where I recommend stopping for AT LEAST lunch on the road from Queenstown to Franz Josef. There is a heap of excellent restaurants here, including the very popular lakefront restaurant Big Fig on 105 Ardmore Street, famous for its slow-cooked dishes!

My personal favorite spot to eat is the food truck park at 51 Brownston Street, here you have a choice of Mexican food, southern fried chicken, as well as organic food options. It’s a great option if you’re traveling with others who all seem to want something different!

After lunch, stretch your legs and walk along the lakefront to #thatwanakatree – a must-visit in Wanaka. This tree is so popular with photographers that it even has its own hashtag.

Other fun activities to try out here include paddleboarding on the lake, and relaxing on a boat cruise! This 1-hour Lake Wanaka cruise is ideal for fitting into a busy schedule, and it’s also very affordable, too. Departing from the Lake Wanaka waterfront, you’ll get to enjoy a tasty cheeseboard and watch the sights go by across the lake. In my opinion, the best views of the lake are the ones you get while you’re on it!

Tickets for this experience cost just $61 NZD per person, and you can book your spot online here.

If you’re traveling with kids, then there are lots of family-friendly activities in Wanaka too. We loved spending half a day at Puzzling World, or alternatively, you can rent a pedal boat from the lakefront and take in the gorgeous views from the water. 

Skydiving at Wanaka, New Zealand
Photo credit: Skydive Wanaka

Just like in Queenstown, there are also some great adventure activities to try in Wanaka, including one of the most thrilling of them all, skydiving! My partner loves to skydive in his free time, so you can bet that he sniffed out this 3-hour Wanaka skydiving experience in a heartbeat. Although I’m not quite so hot on it, I can definitely see the appeal – this is one epic way to see some awesome views in Wanaka.

If jumping out of a plane sounds a little too intense (I don’t blame you!), then how about channeling your inner action-movie star on this 1.5-hour jet boat adventure down the Clutha River? Speaking from experience, there’s nothing quite like rocketing down a scenic river, doing the kind of stunts that would make Tom Cruise blush!

Stay Overnight in Wanaka

You could easily turn the drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef into a multi-day trip, and if you’d like to give this a shot, then Wanaka is the perfect place to spend the first night. With lots of fun activities to try, and a relaxed atmosphere, I’m sure you’ll love it here.

For those who want to take their road trip to the next level, Club Wyndham is a great luxury option. With a heated pool, a café and bar, as well as a fully-equipped fitness center, this is the ultimate place to stop and unwind after a long drive.

For budget travelers, you can’t miss out on staying at YHA Wanaka. For a budget-friendly hostel, it definitely packs some pretty impressive views. There’s a movie room, laundry facilities, and several other rooms where you can relax and make new friends.

Last but not least, I have often stayed at the Clearbrook Motel and find it to be a good middle-ground in terms of comfort and price. All apartments here also feature a balcony or a patio to admire the stunning mountain views… You don’t even have to leave your accommodation to take some amazing pictures!

Related Read: Read my blog about where to stay in Wanaka for detailed info on the best areas and hotels!

5. Lake Hawea

A lady sits on a cliff at Lake Hawea
Lake Hawea is beautiful!

Lake Hawea, just a 15-minute drive northeast of Wanaka, is your first stop when driving from Wanaka to Franz Josef! As New Zealand’s 9th largest lake, Lake Hawea has some of the most breathtaking landscape, with high mountain ranges wrapping around the bright blue water. It’s very popular with keen fishermen as well as kayakers and kite surfers.

There’s a great 3-4 hour loop track here that starts in Lake Hawea township and follows the Timaru River to Timaru Creek. The track ventures through native beech forest and along the braided Timaru River, with plenty of awesome photo opportunities along the way. If you have time, I recommend bringing a picnic to have at the picnic benches at Timaru Creek!

Alternatively, you can just stop at some of the epic viewpoints along the way, including the one pictured above. There’s also a famous hike along this road known as the “other Roys Peak” called Isthmus Peak. It’s one of the best hikes on the South Island and well worth checking out if you have time.

6. Lake Wanaka Lookout

Bailey at Lake Wanaka Lookout
It’s such a magnificent lake!

One of my favorite lookout points over Lake Wanaka is located juuust after what is locally known as “The Neck”. This is where Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea once connected and are now separated by a narrow piece of land known as an isthmus or “The Neck” as it’s more colloquially known.

There’s a little parking lot to pull your car into, although the car park can get very busy in the summer months, so there may be limited parking. If you do get the chance to pull over, definitely take a moment to enjoy it (and grab a couple of photos too, of course)!

7. Blue Pools

A suspension bridge over the Blue Pools on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island
You won’t be able to believe your eyes when you go, it’s that blue!

Important Info: The track to Blue Pools is currently closed as of December 2023, with maintenance work being carried out on the bridges. You can check the DOC website here for the latest updates.

About 30 minutes from “The Neck” is one of the most popular stops on the road from Queenstown to Franz Josef. The Blue Pools are also known as one of the most beautiful places to visit on the South Island and are accessed by a short walk.

The Blue Pools are part of the Makarora River that runs down from the nearby mountains in Mt Aspiring National Park. The Makarora River is truly beautiful and one of the bluest rivers I have ever seen! In fact, the Blue Pools aren’t actually small pools like I originally expected, but rather a part of the Makarora River that pools in an area where the river is deep.

Once you arrive, you can pull off into the car park. From here, you can head over to the start of the trail to get to the pools. The trail starts right next to the car park – easy as that!

The hike to the Blue Pools is a short, easy walk through the native forest to the Makarora and Blue River. The walk will take you over two swing bridges, the second giving you a prime view over the bright blue water below.

If you’re feeling brave (or if it’s a particularly hot day), you may want to cool down in the freezing cold waters. The average water temperature here is just 9 °C or (48 °F). My partner always goes for a swim, but if I’m honest, I can never get myself in!

There is also an obscene amount of annoying sandflies who like to hang out at the Blue Pools, so be sure to wear insect repellant as well as long pants to keep them at bay. Their bites are super itchy and can last weeks on some people.

8. Haast Pass Lookout

Just under a 10-minute drive from the Blue Pools is a stop that’s easy to miss but is well worth stopping at, Haast Pass Lookout. There’s a popular walking track here which is a short 2-kilometer (1.2 mi) return track and should take you about 20 minutes or so.

The trail leads through native beech forest to the viewpoint at the end, which offers the best views of Mt Aspiring National Park. It’s a short walk that’s great for stretching your legs on this road trip from Queenstown to Franz Josef.

9. Fantail Falls

Bailey at Fantail Falls in New Zealand
It’s only a quick stop!
Fantail Falls, South Island, New Zealand
The water is crystal clear!

This next part of our journey is all about amazing waterfalls and epic sights! So, let’s dig in.

Following on from the Haast Pass Lookout, you can continue driving on to Fantail Falls, which will take under 5 minutes. A short two-minute walk from the car park here will bring you to a pretty sweet waterfall, standing at 23 meters (75 feet) tall.

Similar to the Blue Pools, I highly advise wearing bug spray here to deter the sandflies!

If you have an extra day or two and fancy a bit of a break from driving from Queenstown to Franz Josef, then I highly recommend hiking from Fantail Falls to Brewster Hut. This track is considered an advanced hike, so experience is advised. The track will take about 6-8 hours to return.

You will have to cross the Haast River on foot (but it’s not that deep in summer), and climb through the forest. Staying the night at Brewster Hut is a unique experience and must be booked in advance, it sleeps a maximum of 12 people and costs $40 NZD per adult. 

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10. Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls, NZ
Don’t miss Thunder Creek Falls!
Bailey stands at the Thunder Creek Falls Viewpoint in NZ
It’s huge!

Up next, we have another incredible waterfall that’s well worth stopping by. Thunder Creek Falls is an iconic spot along the Haast Pass Highway – this waterfall is pretty big at 28 meters (92 feet) high!

A short 5-minute walk from the roadside car park will bring you to this very photogenic viewpoint of the falls. Surrounded by native bush and with the blue waters of the Haast River running below, it sure makes for a pretty picture! It’s also one of the top attractions in Mount Aspiring National Park.

11. Haast River Lookout

Bailey at Haast River Lookout, New Zealand
Haast River on a moody day!

A beautiful but quick stop along the route of the Haast River is this lookout point with gorgeous Mount Aspiring as a backdrop. The scene here is especially beautiful on a cloudy or rainy day, when the clouds float midway between the brightly colored river and the mountain.

There’s a small gravel pull-off here for you to safely get off the road. It’s also a great place for a bite to eat without the crowds!

12. Roaring Billy Falls

Bailey at Roaring Billy Falls in New Zealand
Roaring Billy!
Roaring Billy Falls, New Zealand
The glacier water makes the river so blue!

Looking to finish Hasst Pass waterfall bingo? The last waterfall on this list is Roaring Billy Falls, the perfect final stopping point before reaching Haast town. An easy 25-minute walk along this fern-lined track will bring you to the famous falls and the blue river to accompany it. You will also encounter some more rare trees along the way, including the miro, matai, and silver beech trees along the track.

Roaring Billy Falls is a typical example of a cascade waterfall and is 30 meters (94 feet) tall. There’s a viewing platform here, and the track itself is considered easy, without many uphill climbs or stairs.

13. Haast town

Bailey at the Haast Visitor center, New Zealand
The visitor center is well worth checking out!
Displays at the Haast Visitor center, New Zealand
And it’s free!

A short stop in Haast town is a great opportunity to fuel up or grab some lunch and a snack! I recommend Otoko Espresso on Marks Road for some strong coffee, or The Craypot at Jackson Bay for yummy seafood.

While in Haast, I strongly recommend stopping at the local Visitor Center. Here, you can ask any questions you may have about the area, as well as grab brochures about hikes and nearby attractions. But besides the info, the Haast Visitor Center is actually like a mini-museum, and it’s free to visit! There are interactive exhibits and displays that are well worth checking out – fun for all the family.

Also, worth seeing in Haast is the Haast River Bridge, a narrow one-lane bridge surrounded by stunning scenery. It’s also what you’ll be driving over on your way to your next destination!

If you’re feeling tired after the drive from Queenstown, then Haast is a great place to spend the night, with a variety of accommodation options available.

Haast River Motels & Holiday Park is a great mid-range option and is in a fantastic location, with everything you need being just a few minutes walk away! With modern rooms that range from double rooms to one-bedroom apartments, it’s the perfect place to spend the night and freshen yourself up for the day ahead.

14. Knights Point Lookout

Knights Lookout on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island
The rugged coastline of the west coast!

Driving out of Haast town, it’s time to drive along the coast, and you’re in for a real treat when it comes to views! I adore the West Coast, and I can’t wait to tell you about all the amazing stops still to come.

The first stop I recommend is Knights Point, about a 20-minute drive from Haast. This is a breathtaking viewpoint that pears over the cliffs out into the vast and unforgiving Tasman Sea. I still remember the first time I stopped by here – and let me tell you, stopping here still gives me goosebumps!

From the viewing platform, you will have a 180-degree view of the small reefs in the ocean. It can get pretty windy here, so you’re likely to see big waves crashing in the ocean below.

There is also a large car park and toilet facilities, so it’s worth stopping here to take some photos and stretch your legs.

15. South Westland Salmon Farm

Bailey with her food at South Westland Salmon Farm, Franz Josef
Salmon benedict!
Salmon farms at South Westland Salmon Farm
The salmon tanks!

Up next, we have South Westland Salmon Farm, an operating salmon farm and café that’s about a 25-minute drive on from Knights Point.

When I first stopped here, I thought that this was just another fish farm with a café, but boy was I wrong! The salmon that are raised here enjoy some of the cleanest spring waters that flow down from the mountains and are raised entirely naturally. The result? Some super tasty salmon that blew me away when I first tried it (and it still does!).

Here at South Westland Salmon Farm, they farm Chinook, King, Spring, and Quinnat salmon. All were originally found in the Sacramento River in California.

In short, this is an awesome place to enjoy a delicious seafood lunch, with the on-site café specializing in salmon, but they also have a host of counter foods, like cakes and sandwiches if you’re after something lighter. You can check out their café menu before you arrive.

For $1 NZD, you can also feed the fish, which is tons of fun for kids, as well as big kids like us! South Westland Salmon Farm is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm.

16. Fox Glacier

A group of tourists walk on the Fox Glacier
The glacier is huge!

As you drive on towards Fox Glacier, you’ll leave the coast behind and see the landscape slowly change. It’ll soon become obvious that you are now in glacier country!

Tucked away at the foot of the majestic Southern Alps, the cute town of Fox Glacier is very popular with tourists. There are also glow-worm caves a short walk from the town center that are well worth a visit, as well as the famous Minnehaha Walk, a short 1 km (0.6 mi) loop which is very easy to walk and home to glow-worms too!

As you’ve probably guessed, the town of Fox Glacier is right next to the actual Fox Glacier, which descends from the Southern Alps down into the rainforest. It’s one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, as it’s just 300 meters (984 feet) above sea level. A whopping 12 km (7.5 mi) in length, Fox Glacier is also the West Coast’s longest glacier.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can arrange an ice-hiking adventure here or book a scenic flight to see the stunning glacier from above. It’s worth noting that Fox Glacier is not as steep as the neighboring Franz Josef Glacier, so, it’s a better ice-hiking option for those less experienced.

For the ultimate hiking experience, I’d recommend trying out this 4-hour heli hike tour, which combines a guided walk along the glacier with an epic helicopter flight! I absolutely love scenic flights, and I can easily say that you’ve never really seen a place until you see it from above.

The guides on this tour do such a fantastic job of introducing the glacier and are full of all kinds of fun stories and facts. One thing I will say though is that it’s pretty cold up on the glacier, so make sure to layer up before you go!

Tickets for this tour aren’t the cheapest, at $673 NZD per person. That said, if you’re looking to book an activity that will be the highlight of your road trip, this will surely be it! You can check availability online and reserve your spot online here.

Look at all this ice!

If you want to see the glacier for free, you also can hike the Fox Glacier Valley Walk by yourself. This 1-hour return track gets you as close as you can to the glacier without a tour. However, this is still quite far from the glacier and you’ll need a good zoom lens on your camera to fully see it.

Back in the town of Fox Glacier, there are a few options for food if you’re hungry, including Betsey Jane Eatery (great light bites) and The White Pub on Cook Flat Road.

There are also a few great places to stay in Fox Glacier if you fancy spending the night to break up your journey. I’ve recently stayed at the Heartland Hotel, which is a great mid-range option. The staff there were super friendly, and the room was nice and clean. Their on-site restaurant is The White Pub (which I mentioned earlier), and a delicious meal here is perfect for ending a day of driving (or hiking!).

17. Lake Matheson

Bailey stands on the edge of Lake Matheson near Franz Josef, New Zealand
Reflection Island has the best view of the lake!

Just a 5-minute (or 5-kilometer drive) from Fox Glacier town is one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand. On a clear day, Lake Matheson reflects New Zealand’s highest mountain – Mount Cook! This is because the water in the lake is a dark brown, making it the perfect surface to reflect.

An easy walk from the car park brings you over the Clearwater River suspension bridge. The track continues through tall rimu and kahikatea trees to a pontoon that is the ideal spot for a photograph. If you look closely at the water for long enough, you might even spot a long-finned eel, but they’re pretty hard to spot!

The walk from the car park takes about 40 minutes to the pontoon, or 1.5 hours on the loop track around the lake. If you’d love to learn more about the lake, I’d suggest trying out a guided nature walk to Lake Matheson, where you’ll be joined by a local expert who knows pretty much all there is to know about the lake!

Not only can they tell you the best secret spots to grab a photo, but you’ll learn all about the local ecosystem, and how it’s all kept in fine balance. Tickets for this 3 to 4-hour experience cost just $90 NZD per person and can be booked online here.

Did you know – Lake Matheson is a traditional mahinga kai (food gathering place) for Māori!

18. Franz Josef Glacier

Bailey at the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint along the Franz Josef glacier valley walk
Come and enjoy the view!
Close up shot of the Franz Josef Galcier, New Zealand
Franz Josef Glacier.

After taking in the views at Lake Matheson, it’s now time to visit our second glacier!

The snowfield at the head of Franz Josef Glacier is 20 sq km (7 sq mi) in area and over 2,500 meters (8,202 feet) above sea level. It’s one of the few known glaciers that drops so quickly to low altitudes – it descends to 300 meters (984 feet) above sea level in just 11 km (6.8 mi)!

A 1.5-hour easy walk on the Franz Josef Valley Walk will take you to within 750 meters (2,450 feet) of the glacier’s terminal face. The trail navigates through native forest for the first 15 minutes or so and then along the rocky riverbed where you’ll find two small but beautiful waterfalls.

The end of the hike involves a short but steep climb to the viewing platform. You’ll notice the glacier constantly moving and may even spot rock and debris falling. I’d recommend wearing appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots, as some parts of the trail are a little less even, and you do have to cross a small stream.

If you’d like to see this glacier up close, then a guided tour is the way to go! This scenic flight with a glacier landing will actually have you landing on top of the ice, where you’ll be able to get out and take in all the epic views. This is such a cool way to take in all the scenery, and grab a few more pics for the ‘gram!

With this scenic flight lasting for around 25 minutes in total, you can get tickets for this experience for $325 NZD per person. Don’t delay though, this is a popular tour, with dates often selling out far in advance. You can check availability and book your spot online here.

19. Franz Josef Town

Bailey walks down the main street in Franz Josef town, New Zealand
I love Franz Josef!

350 kilometers (217 miles) on from where you started, you’ve now arrived in the small but lively town of Franz Josef. A massive well done from me!

Franz Josef is a lively place that makes for the perfect place to spend a night or two – I love it here! There are tons of fun things to do in Franz Josef, so it’s easy to fill in your spare time. Let’s take a look at some of the best activities to try while you’re here.

My first recommendation is to go for a walk and stretch your legs down Cron Street. There are lots of fantastic restaurants here too, so if you’re feeling hungry, I’d suggest Alice May (selection of local favorite dishes) or Monsoon (amazing burgers and pizzas). If you love craft beer and pub food, you can’t miss out on Snakebite Brewery, it’s my favorite place to go for a hearty meal and delicious beer.

If you’re planning to stay in Franz Josef for a couple of days (a great idea!), then this is the perfect chance to try out some more local activities, with one of the biggest draws being the nearby glaciers. From town, this twin glacier helicopter flight will fly you over the Franz Josef Glacier, and the Fox Glacier – a great option if you didn’t get the chance to go on a tour while you were there!

With professional commentary the entire time, you’ll also get to land on one of the two glaciers, and get to experience standing on a moving glacier (but don’t worry, they don’t move THAT fast). Tickets for this experience cost $434 NZD per person and can be booked online here.

If you’ve already tried out a glacier tour, or are looking for something a little more budget-friendly, then why not take a guided tour to the white heron colony at Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve? Another good option is to visit the Okarito Kiwi Sanctuary to see the adorable Rowi – the world’s rarest kiwi, there are only 600 of these left in existence in the country.

There is actually a tour that combines kayaking across Lake Mapourika with a scenic walk at the kiwi sanctuary. This 4-hour adventure includes transport, all equipment, and tea and coffee. It’s a fantastic option whether you’re looking for an activity to try with the family, or simply want to go solo! Tickets cost $165 NZD per person.

Essential Information to Know Before You Go

Wet road along the west coast of New Zealand's south island near Franz Josef
The windy roads of the West Coast!
  • The Queenstown to Franz Josef route is 350 km (217 miles) in total, which should take you just over 5 hours but considering all the stops I’ve listed it will be a full-day affair. Ideally, I recommend taking 3 days for this route.
  • In the winter months (May to September) you will need to carry snow chains for the Crown Range Road as it can get pretty icy.
  • Be sure to bring appropriate clothing – the West Coast (Haast, Franz Josef & Fox Glacier) is notorious for its high rainfall. So, bring good wet weather gear as well as suitable footwear if you plan on walking to the glacier
  • Fuel up before you leave Queenstown, as there are limited gas stations along the route. There are gas stations in Wanaka, Haast, Fox Glacier town as well as Franz Josef town.

Related Read: Driving to Christchurch next? Check out my road trip guide, all about the drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef (and vice versa!).

Things to do in Queenstown Before You Go

After reading this, I’m sure you’re ready to hit the road and see all those epic spots along the way. However, if you still have some time before you leave Queenstown, here are a few of my favorite activities to try, if you haven’t yet!

  • Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $215 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
  • Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.

Where to Stay in Franz Josef

Franz Josef town, New Zealand
Franz Josef town, New Zealand

The small town of Franz Josef may be small, but it’s such a beautiful place to stay with lots of lively restaurants, bars, and other fun attractions to check out in town! There are lots of fantastic accommodation choices in Franz Josef to check out too – here are some of my favorites:

Glow Worm Accommodation – $

For budget travelers, Glow Worm Accommodation is a great choice. It’s located within walking distance of everything and offers dorm and private rooms at really affordable prices. I stayed here on my first-ever trip down the West Coast and had a social night with other travelers. The private rooms here are also really nice, and super affordable!

A bed in a dorm here starts as low as $40 NZD per night, and you can nab a private room from around $115 NZD per night. This is a popular accommodation choice though, so make sure to check out your dates in advance. You can book your stay here on Booking.com or here on Hostelworld.

Aspen Court (Franz Josef) – $$

For those with a slightly larger budget, the Aspen Court Franz Josef is a good mid-range option with outstanding reviews. The hotel is located on the outskirts of town but is only a short walk from the best restaurants and bars. They also have apartments and studios, so it’s perfect for those who like to prepare their own meals or those traveling in a group/family.

A one-night stay here at Aspen Court starts from around $297 NZD for a studio room, with all rooms coming with a kitchenette too. You can check out available dates and book your stay here on Booking.com.

Te Waonui Forest Retreat – $$$

If you’re a luxury traveler, the Te Waonui Forest Retreat is pure bliss! The entire retreat is surrounded by lush forest, and you’ll be able to hear the sounds of nature right from your balcony. Rooms are also large and well decorated, and you’ll also have access to their state-of-the-art spa during your stay, offering massages, facials, and more.

Don’t forget about their incredible on-site restaurant too! The Canopy Restaurant and Bar offers “fine dining in the rainforest,” where you’ll dine among the treetops, savoring local produce and the world-famous Otago lamb!

Rooms here at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat aren’t cheap, starting from around $900 NZD per night. That said, if you’re celebrating a special occasion, looking for the perfect place to enjoy your honeymoon, or simply want to experience one of the best hotels Franz Josef, this is the place for you! You can check your dates online here and book your stay here on Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera in Franz Josef
Thanks for reading!

A road trip from Queenstown to Franz Josef, in my opinion, should be added to every New Zealand itinerary. Whether you stop at just a few or all of the above attractions, it’s certain to be a road trip to remember.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you loved this blog and now have a huge list of places to visit between Queenstown and Franz Josef. If you did enjoy it, browse around, I have so many more in-depth blogs on Queenstown and New Zealand. I’ve left some of my favorite guides down below to get you started!

18 BEST Things to do in Arrowtown, New Zealand

9 Best in Hikes in Glenorchy, New Zealand

5 Things to KNOW About Riding the Luge in Queenstown

Hadas Heller

Saturday 7th of January 2023

Thank you for the excellent blog❤️🙏🏻 Helped us a lot with designing our trip

Bailey

Sunday 8th of January 2023

Hey Hadas,

So glad to hear!

Thanks Bailey

Zoran Radevski

Friday 4th of June 2021

Thanks for this well informed , detailed itenary , once Victoria is out of lockdown , I’ll be flying to Queenstown , I’ve been before , but want to do this drive 🤞🏼🙏👍

Bailey

Saturday 5th of June 2021

Hey Zoran!

Thanks for your comment and I am glad you liked the blog! Be sure to check out more of my blogs and have fun in New Zealand!

Thanks Bailey