Julie New Zealand 2 Comments

A helicopter flight over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers is a thrilling experience. To see this land of glacier-capped mountains, rainforests, and rugged coastlines is one of the best experiences to have in Glacier Country, if not all of New Zealand.

On a helicopter tour from Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, you will fly over several glaciers, get to view Mount Tasman and Mount Cook, soar over rainforests, and in some cases, do a snow landing or go heli-hiking.

It is a beautiful, thrilling ride…one that you will be talking about for weeks after your trip.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about helicopter tours of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers…which companies offer the flights, how much it costs, what to expect, if it is worth it, and more.

Note: We paid full price for our helicopter flight and did not make it known to Glacier Country Helicopters or our pilot that we run this travel website. Like all of our travels, we book and pay for everything on our own, so we can offer an unbiased opinion. This experience is no different.

Airports in Glacier Country

Glacier Country is the name given to the area on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This area includes the towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Westland Tai Poutini National Park, Lake Matheson, and Lake Mapourika.

In Glacier Country, you can book helicopter flights starting in both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. There are slightly more options in Franz Josef than Fox Glacier, not only when it comes to helicopter flights, but also hotels and restaurants.

We stayed in Franz Josef during our visit to Glacier Country.

Companies that Offer Helicopter Flights in Glacier Country

Glacier Country Helicopters

Glacier Country Helicopters is a local, family-based company located in Franz Josef. They offer a variety of options, from quick 25-minute flights to one hour flights that include two snow landings.

This is the company that we used. We chose them because they were the highest rated helicopter company in the Franz Josef area during our trip and we wanted to support a small, locally run business with an impeccable safety record.

They offer scenic flights as well as drop offs in the backcountry.

Here is a brief overview of their flights (for more information, and updated prices, take a look at their website).

Glacier Explorer: This is the cheapest option, at $295 NZD per person. On this 25-minute flight, see the Franz Josef Glacier and do one snow landing.

Pilot’s Choice: In 35 minutes, see two glaciers, plus Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, and do one snow landing. This costs $395 NZD per person.

Ultimate Discovery: For $495 NZD, take a 45-minute flight. It’s similar to the Pilot’s Choice flight, but you get a longer snow landing and get to see three glaciers (Franz Josef, Tasman, and Fox). This is the flight we took.

Mt. Cook Supreme: This is the longest, most expensive flight. It lasts 60 minutes and costs $695 per person. It’s the same as the Ultimate Discovery, but adds on a second snow landing, the Shackleton Glacier, and a flight over the “Lighting of the Beacons” film site from LOTR.

Note: We planned to take the Mt. Cook Supreme flight. On the day we did this, weather conditions prevented pilots from flying to all of the areas that the Mt. Cook Supreme flight includes, so we were bumped down to the Ultimate Discovery flight (but still had a great experience, as you will see in our photos throughout this guide).

Glacier Helicopters

Glacier Helicopters offers very similar scenic flight options as the Helicopter Line, with 20, 30, and 40-minute scenic flights. They run flights out of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier and have a partnership with the Helicopter Line, mentioned next. Learn more on their website.

The Helicopter Line

The Helicopter Line is one of the larger companies offering helicopter flights. They offer flights from Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, and Mt. Cook.

From Franz Josef, they offer 20, 30, and 40-minute scenic flights as well as a 4-hour heli-hiking option. Learn more and get pricing on their website.

In our research, we read that the Helicopter Line has a history of four snow crashes in three years.

Heliservices.nz

Heliservices.nz runs flights out of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. Like Glacier Helicopters and the Helicopter Line, they offer 20, 30, and 40-minute scenic flights. Learn more on their website.

Fox Glacier Guides

If you like the idea of heli-hiking, ice climbing, or glacier hiking, take a look at the Fox Glacier Guides website, as they have several options to level up your helicopter flight and get out onto the ice.

Southern Alps New Zealand

The Southern Alps

How Much Does a Glacier Country Helicopter Tour Cost?

For the cheapest option, which is a 20-minute flight that includes a flight over one glacier, prices for all four companies is $300 NZD per person, with the exception of Glacier Country Helicopters, which offers the same flight for $295 NZD.

The 40-minute tours average out to be $525 NZD per person, which includes views of three glaciers, Mount Cook, and Mount Tasman. Again, Glacier Country Helicopters is the exception, offering a 45-minute tour for $495 NZD per person for the same experience.

How to Choose a Helicopter Company

As you can see, you have a lot of options, with several tour companies that all offer roughly the same flights. Pricing is all very similar as well.

We had a great experience with Glacier Country Helicopters and highly recommend them. From start to finish, we had an excellent experience, which I will get into in more detail later in this guide, under the section Helicopter Tour in Glacier Country: The Experience.

Glacier Country Helicopters also offers the longer, 60-minute tour, that includes two glacier landings and a flight over the LOTR filming site. It has a bigger price tag but it sounds like an awesome experience.

Glacier Country Helicopters also has the best safety record, a very important thing to consider when choosing who to fly with.

If we return to Glacier Country on a future visit, we will not hesitate to take another flight with Glacier Country Helicopters.

How to Choose the Best Helicopter Tour

So, which one should you choose?

Is a quick, 20-minute flight to one glacier enough? Or is it worth spending more money to see the Franz Josef, Fox, and Tasman Glaciers, plus views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman?

The difference between the 20-minute flight and the 40-minute flight is $225 NZD ($200 NZD for Glacier Country Helicopters). That’s a big difference.

But what you are getting is a flight over the spine of the Southern Alps, a very unique view of Mount Cook as well as views into Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, views of three glaciers, and more time spent over these amazing snow-capped mountains.

If you can afford it, it’s worth doing the longer flight. We spent a lot of time circling around the glaciers, which gave us lots of time to gaze at Mount Cook and Southern Alps.

But I know what it is like traveling on a budget. On our first trip to New Zealand, the 20-minute flight was well outside of our budget, so we only saw Mount Cook from the ground (which is still a very memorable experience!). Now having seen Mount Cook and the glaciers from the sky, it’s well worth it, even the shorter flight. It truly is one of our favorite experiences in New Zealand.

New Zealand Helicopter Tour Photo

Helicopter Tour in Glacier Country: The Experience

Franz Josef is one of the rainiest spots in New Zealand, getting about 200 days of rain a year. With that statistic, there is a good chance that you will see some rain during your visit to this area, and that rainy weather can disrupt flights.

Glacier Country had several days of rain just before our visit. We arrived under cloudy skies. Fortunately, we had two full days in Franz Josef. We rescheduled our helicopter tour for the second day, the day with the clearest skies during our time here.

Even so, high winds in the mountains and clouds over Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park disrupted helicopter flights. In the morning, we were told that they would not be able to do any snow landings and were happy to reschedule us for the following day. However, we had plans for the following day and could not reschedule again.

Taking our chances, we got booked onto an early afternoon flight. As it would turn out, conditions would improve, giving us the chance for a snow landing. We were unable to do the 60-minute Mt. Cook Supreme flight that we originally signed up for, but we were able to do the 45-minute Ultimate Discovery flight.

On the Ultimate Discovery flight, we flew over three glaciers (Fox, Tasman, and Franz Josef), got to see Mount Tasman and Mount Cook from several different angles, and did a 15-minute snow landing. It was an awesome 45 minutes and the views of the Southern Alps were incredible.

My photos will do a much better job than my words of this experience, so here is the Ultimate Discovery flight by Glacier Country Helicopters in photos.

First View Southern Alps

Flying south from Franz Josef towards Fox Glacier.

 

Mountains Franz Josef Helicopter Tours

The forested mountains between Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

 

Mount Tasman Mount Cook

Our first look at Mount Tasman (on the left) and Mount Cook (on the right)

 

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

 

Fox Glacier Photo

Another view of Fox Glacier

 

New Zealand Southern Alps

New Zealand Helicopter Tour

A different view of Mount Cook (on the left) and Mount Tasman (on the right)

 

Tasman Glacier

Tasman Glacier

 

Glacier Country Helicopter

Mountain Peaks

Franz Josef Snow Landing

Snow landing

 

Franz Josef in April

Helicopter Glacier Landing

A view of another helicopter and snow landing

 

Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier

 

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

 

Glacier Country New Zealand

Approaching the Glacier Country Helicopters landing site.

What is the Best Time of Day for a Helicopter Tour?

The best time of day for a helicopter tour is midday, when you get less shadowing in your photos. Clouds are more likely to develop in the afternoon and in general, the clearest skies are in the morning. The photos in this guide were taken between 12:30 and 1:30 pm in mid-April.

What is the Best Time of Year for a Helicopter Tour?

The summer months have the longest days and the clearest weather, making this a great time for a helicopter flight in Glacier Country. This is also the busiest time of year, so make your reservations in advance.

From fall through spring, fresh snow is more likely to cover the mountains, giving you the opportunity to walk in fresh snow and capture the Southern Alps with a thick coating of snow.

For more information about things to do in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, take a look at our Guide to Glacier Country. This includes recommendations on where to stay, how to plan your time, and things to do nearby.

Is a Helicopter Tour of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers Worth It?

This is one of the best ways to see the glaciers, mountains, and landscapes of Glacier Country and the Southern Alps. By helicopter, you can get to places that you can’t see by car or by foot. It was one of our most memorable experiences in New Zealand, so yes, a helicopter tour of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers is worth it.

Booking Your Helicopter Flight

You can either book your helicopter flight directly with the company using official links to the websites listed earlier in this guide. You also have the option to book your flight through GetYourGuide, and as I am writing this, you can cancel your flight up to 24 hours in advance and still get a full refund.

This tour, the 3 glacier helicopter tour, is the same tour that we took with Glacier Country Helicopters (a 45-minute flight with a view of the Tasman, Fox, and Franz Josef glaciers plus a snow landing).

Also with Glacier Country Helicopters, you can take this 25-minute helicopter flight or this 35-minute helicopter flight. For those who want the full experience, plus the flight over the Lord of the Rings filming site, take a look at the 4 Glacier Helicopter Ride.

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I choose my seat on the helicopter?

Your seat on the helicopter is determined by your weight. Everyone on the flight will be weighed in advance and the pilot will seat you based on your weight. The helicopter needs to be balanced based on these weights and you will not be able to request a particular seat. We sat in the front two seats of the helicopter (I sat in the middle and Tim sat in the right passenger seat, next to the window). 

Should I make my reservation in advance?

Yes, make your reservation in advance because tours can sell out, especially during the busier season of November through May. With that being said, it is possible to get on a helicopter tour at the last minute (if you are a single rider or small group).

What happens if my helicopter tour gets cancelled?

Unfortunately, it happens. Rain and wind can cancel a helicopter tour. You should check the policy of the company you have a tour scheduled with, but Glacier Country Helicopters does not collect your payment until you do the flight, so if your flight gets cancelled, you will not lose any money.

If there is time in their schedule later in the day, or in the following days, they can rebook you on another tour.

What camera gear do you recommend?

The photos in this guide were taken with two cameras: a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 16-35 mm lens and a Canon R5 Mark III with a 24 – 70 mm lens.

Both lenses are great. The 16 – 35 mm lens gave us some great, wide shots, but with this wider lens, we also occasionally got the propeller blades in the photo. Our best photos were taken with the 24 – 70 mm lens. For more information about the photography gear we use, take a look at our Travel Photography Gear Guide.

More Helicopter Tours around the World

For more helicopter rides and scenic flights from around the world, take a look at this Doors Off Helicopter Tour in Kauai, Hawaii, learn what it’s like to fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, and soar over Wrangell – St. Elias National Park in Alaska in an airplane (it’s amazing!!).


If you have any questions about Franz Josef helicopter tours, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand

SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound, spend a few days in Wanaka, hike the Routeburn Track, drive the Southern Scenic Route, visit the Marlborough Wine Region, spend a day in Christchurch, and visit Franz Josef and Glacier Country. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.

AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK: Get started with our article Best Things to Do in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We also have guides to the Hooker Valley Track and the Tasman Lake Trails.

OUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCES IN NEW ZEALAND: All four of us went bungy jumping in Queenstown which was a blast. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is our favorite hike in New Zealand, followed by Roy’s Peak Track and the Routeburn Track. We also love Waiheke Island (a great day trip from Auckland), Queenstown and visiting Franz Josef (Glacier Country).

NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP: With 3 weeks in New Zealand, visit the highlights on a road trip to the North Island and South Island. If you have less time, you can shorten this itinerary by spending 2 weeks on the South Island.

DOUBTFUL SOUND: How do you visit Doubtful Sound and is it worth it? Find out the answers, and more, in our guide to Doubtful Sound.

We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.

Helicopter Tour New Zealand

 

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Comments 2

  1. Avatar for Darsh
    Darsh

    Very helpful information, thank you. A quick question, would you recommend Fraz or Fox for Heli hike. Also, what time of the day do you recommend, early morning or mid-afternoon.

    1. Avatar for Julie
      Julie

      Late morning is probably the best time…good lighting and you’ll have the afternoon as contingency time, just in case flights can’t go first thing in the morning. The helicopter tours are done from the towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. I’d make my decision based on the time duration and how much hiking you get to do. In our things to do in Franz Josef guide, we list some heli hiking tours. You can look at these (the links go to GetYourGuide) or look at the official websites for more details. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Jenni Humphreys
    Jenni Humphreys

    Thank you for the helpful information. One question: what resources did you use to find information on the safety records of the different helicopter operators? I’m specifically looking at the heli hike options and can’t seem to find anything.
    Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie
      Julie

      Tim did Google searches, putting in the name of the helicopter company and key words such as ‘safety ratings,’ ‘crashes,” etc. and looked at news articles that came up. But there is not one website to point you to. You can do the same thing, it’s just time intensive. Our visit was in April 2023, so our info should still be very current. Cheers, Julie

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