New Zealand Glacier Tour

A 7 day trip to New Zealand 
4 out of 5 stars
1 reviews

The majesty of New Zealand is more than its vibrant culture; it is literally frozen in its scenery. A frozen river sits between two mountains and shines a vibrant, bright blue and snowy white. Feel the crisp ice crunch beneath your feet. Climb into ice caves. Watch the mountain peaks tower above you as you linger on the frozen rush of water. The Franz Josef Glacier is the stunning tip of the gorgeous iceberg that is the South Island of New Zealand.  

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Christchurch, Mt. Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Franz Joseph

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Glacial Anticipation

Arrive in the beautiful city of Christchurch, known to locals as the “Garden City,” and be transferred to your accommodation. The calm rush of water drifts through the city from the Avon River that meanders through the gardens and the city center. The sweet scent of lupines wafts through the streets and the lively sounds of the open city surround and welcome you. Put aside the excitement of the coming visit to the Franz Glacier and enjoy the city of Christchurch and its varied activities and luxuries.

Exploring the city brings the sound of bells from the tram and the gentle hum as it makes its way along the sunken rails. Christ Church Cathedral is an Anglican building with a history dating back to 1865. Located in the heart of the city, the cathedral is dressed with an impressive stone facade with a pointed bell tower, a cavernous interior that looks like it stretches for miles with a wooden ceiling, and stained-glass windows that colorfully light the grounds. Oftentimes you can see random crowds of locals filling decrepit buildings, left over from the 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes. The area has been taken over by Gap Filler, an urban regeneration project full of volunteers that return life to vacant sites through creative projects. People come together through boisterous dance performances, hilarious poetry recitals, or even chess tournaments. Settle in with the locals and feel at home immediately.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer

Day 2: Mountain and Church (Peaks)

As you venture out of Christchurch the spire of the Christchurch Cathedral fades on the horizon. Make your way to Queenstown taking advantage of the stunning scenery that unfolds along the way. Stop at Lake Tekapo, the blue of the lake so bright and still that it looks like the water has been painted onto the land. The Southern Alps that line the horizon outline the far end of the lake and are reflected in the lake’s calm water. Lupines line the shore creating a purple and red wave when the breeze blows through and ruffles the flowers, the sweet smell of blossomed wildflowers surrounding the shore. The sky is clear, the lake is glistening in the sunlight and you continue to Queenstown with a stop at Mt. Cook along the way.

Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s largest peak and is situated along the stunning Southern Alps mountain range. Why not take a flight over the Alps and Mt. Cook’s peak? In the winter the mountain range is blanketed in snow and looks like the entire rocky terrain has been smothered in a cloud. In the summer the range is draped in vibrant green with ribbons of purple and red shining from the wildflowers. The mountain lakes that speckle the range are so crisp you can practically taste the cool water during the flight. The peaks of the Southern Alps grow before you as you descend back to earth and continue your journey to Queenstown arriving later in the day.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer

Day 3: Glacial Expectation to Fiord Realization

Your first day in Queenstown will take you to the west of the South Island to experience the unique and fairytale beauty of Milford Sound. Travel through Fiordland National Park where the lush cone-shaped hills spire across the land as water encircles their base. Once you reach Milford Sound climb aboard a luxury cruiser to tour the beauty and unique scenery. The sky is a pale blue while the water is opal, cool, and deep. The boat weighs anchor. The sea calmly ripples as you begin to explore.

Mitre Peak stands tall against the water and high above the surrounding peaks. Sometimes its tip points in the sky above a cloud; other times it is covered in the pristine snow of an unsullied winter. Pass the lovely cascade of Bowen Falls as it careens down the mountainside, the rush and crash of water filling the air, mist rising onto the boat and smelling of refreshing, crisp water. The bark of seals can be heard in the distance. Penguins line the shores and nest out of the cold water. White Heron stretch their wings while they glide in the air, their wingspan large, their white feathers looking like freshly fallen snow as they dry themselves on the warm rocks in the wandering sun.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour

Day 4: Mountains Over or Under

Queenstown is open to everyone and anyone whether searching for the adrenaline rush of adventure sports or the leisure and luxury of the city’s beauty. Situated between Lake Wakatipu and Bob’s Peak, you can luxuriate on sea and land while exploring the city. Take the incredible gondola ride up to Bob’s Peak, which is the steepest gondola in the Southern Hemisphere. As you ascend the mountain you can see the majestic expanse of Lake Wakatipu as its pristine blue extends to the base of the Southern Alps.  On top of Bob’s Peak you can explore the views of the Queenstown, enjoying the thrilling ski run in the winter or the exhilarating luge in the summer. The smell of fresh fern surrounds the peak and the jovial cheers of locals and visitors alike echo off the mountain.

Having explored the top of Bob’s Peak, take the time to dive beneath a mountain and explore the caves of the Fiordland National Park. The underground world is continuously in a state of flux as the river cuts, shapes, and molds it. The caves are full of various passages that contain spinning whirlpools, severe underground waterfalls, and elaborate rock sculptures. The sound of the waterfalls can be heard through the caves. The underground darkness is short lived as you float deeper into the cavern. A strong silence fills the grotto. The darkness gives way to specks of light that look like stars in the cavernous sky; the cave is filled with thousands of glittering glowworms dangling like stalactites from the ceiling. Let the glowworms light the way home as you make your way out of the cave and back to Queenstown.

What’s Included: accommodation

Day 5: Glacial Lakes to Glaciers

Transfer from Queenstown to Franz Josef for the incredible beauty of the glaciers that line the mountain range. On your way to Franz Josef you will pass through the rugged beauty of the South Island’s West Coast. Situated snuggly among the mountains are Lakes Wanaka and Hawea lying side by side and both emanating a shiny opal. Created by massive glaciers over 100 centuries ago, the lakes are divided by a splinter of land less than 3,300 ft wide. Lake Wanaka sources the Clutha, New Zealand’s largest river while Lake Hawea feeds the Hawea River, which eventually joins the Clutha. The coastline straddles craggy mountains and temperamental shores that are no less beautiful in their activity than Mt. Cook is in its immobility. The area has a chaotic serenity where the pebble beaches give way to a serene calm in the summer, and the area gives a peaceful rest to the landscape and the locals. From the twin lakes and along the coast you will eventually reach Franz Josef and its grandiose allure. 

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer

Day 6: Reaching the Glacier

The actual town of Franz Josef is quaint and inviting. The day is for you to do with as you choose with the glacier a 20 minute walk away that will bring you face to face with the glacier’s terminus. The bluish-white hue makes it easy to imagine the glacier as a river of ice plunging through rainforest almost to sea level, which wouldn’t be far off the mark. A clean, frozen cold fills the air. A helicopter ride over the glacier will take you above the mountain’s peaks giving you an aerial visual of the ice river from above. From here, the glacier looks like a mixture of frozen water in motion and a craggy, frozen alien landscape. Wander in and over the glacier by participating in a glacier walk. Strap on the spike shoes, tie a rope around your waste that connects to your guide, and hold on tight to your pickaxe. Navigate the ice-maze as you see the environmental changes over time. The landscape is awesome, as in unparalleled, as the mountainous peaks surround you. The terminus of the glacier is rapidly changing due to a variety of reasons, but as you descend the frozen river you realize you have made the journey to, up, down, and beyond the depths of the glacier to a land of spectacular brilliance that was meant to be explored and experienced by you. 

What’s Included: accommodation

Day 7: Over the Glacier and Through the Alps

Today your New Zealand expedition comes to an end as you make your way from Franz Josef and its frozen awe back to Christchurch by way of the TranzAlpine railway, one of the world’s most famous train journeys. The fertile plains of Canterbury pass by the window; the rich scent of coffee fills the comforts of the train car. Pass along over the depths of steep gorges. Venture close to the path of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, and wind through the colossal Southern Alps. In the summer the trees shine green and climb up the mountainside. In the winter the snow covers both the peaks and the base. Every turn brings a new vista, brilliant mountains, or a lush prairie. The quiet of the cab is the only sound that can aptly express the majesty of the journey and capture how you feel at that moment: tranquil. Arrive in Christchurch in the early evening with the train ride and glacier walk becoming quick memories that you’d be happy to relive over and over again.

If you want to continue making memories in New Zealand, consider adding on to this trip.  See the New Zealand trip reviews for additional information and to see what other travelers experienced on their custom trips.

What’s Included: accommodation, train



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