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14 of the Best Walks in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

14 of the Best Walks in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

Glacier Country, encompassing the tiny towns of Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, is one of the top hiking destinations in New Zealand. You’ll see heaps of beautiful mountain scenes, including the towering glaciers, on walks varying from a few minutes to a full day. We’ve been to this region a few times over years – here’s our list of the best walks in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

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Best Walks in Franz Josef

There are heaps of awesome hikes in and around Franz Josef. Many of them start at the big car park, a 5-minute drive (or 30-min walk) from town.

Franz Josef Glacier Walk

This is the walk in Franz Josef that pretty much everyone does, and for good reason. The Franz Josef Glacier Walk leads to a viewpoint where you can see the glacier in the distance. When it’s open, it then takes you all the way down the valley to a much closer viewpoint, but last time we visited that whole section was closed.

Hopefully it opens back up sometime soon – it’s one of our favourite mid-range walks in New Zealand (it usually takes around 90-minutes).

Sentinel Rock

Sentinel Rock is a short detour (5-mins or so) from the main Franz Josef Glacier Walk track and it’s one of our favourite viewpoints in New Zealand. You’ll see the valley surrounded by lush green trees, and if you visit at the right time in summer you’ll see bright red Rata lighting up the forest.

Peter’s Pool

The short walk to Peters Pool is ideal for kids or anyone else who’s a bit low on energy. It’ll only take 15-minutes or so but the view you get at the end is one of the best on the West Coast. Try and visit Peter’s Pool on a nice sunny (and not very windy) day – you can’t beat that view!

Alex Knob

So far, the best walks in Franz Josef have also been easy. That’s the great thing about this place – you can see some incredible views with very little effort. That’s not true for the Alex Knob Track though – it’s definitely an effort!

 

The Alex Knob Track should take between 6-8 hours and it’s tough in parts. After walking through the forest for a while it takes a steep turn and doesn’t relent until the top. The views though! I’d put this at my top viewpoint on the West Coast and the whole Alex Knob Track in our top 3 days walks in New Zealand. The weather is key for this track — check the forecast and make sure it’s a clear day before attempting it!

You can also visit Lake Wombat as a short detour from the Alex Knob Track. There’s not much going on there and I wouldn’t recommend walking all the way from the car park and back if you’re not doing the Alex Knob Track.

Callery Gorge

The Callery Gorge Track is closer to town and takes you through a pristine section of forest to Callery Gorge. It’s not the most exciting walk in Franz Josef, but it’s a good option if you’re stuck in town without a car. We did it on a rainy day too, so that final viewpoint should look a bit better on a nice day.

Canavans Knob Walk

The Canavans Knob Walk is a fun short walk near Franz Josef – it’s around 5-minutes before town if you’re coming from the south. It’s a bit of a workout to get to the top but it won’t take long (90-minute round trip), and the views are quite different from the other tracks in Franz Josef.

Town to Franz Josef Car Park

If you’re in Franz Josef and don’t have a car, you’ll probably ending walking from town to the glacier car park (where most of the good walks start). Luckily, the walk is quite nice, taking you alongside a river and then through the bush as you get closer to the car park.

Terrace Track

The Terrace Track is the place to go in Franz Josef if you want to spot glow worms. We’ve done it twice now and have seen descent numbers of them along the way – not in the numbers you’ll see in some of the caves around New Zealand but it’s definitely a walk you’ll want to do in Franz Josef.

Roberts Point Track

Roberts Point Track is the “other” long walk in Franz Josef, and we haven’t done it yet. It seems kinda similar (but a lot easier) to Alex Knob but the views aren’t anywhere near as good. I’m not sure if you’d want to do both of them on the same trip, and if you’re only going to do one it’d be Alex Knob (assuming you aren’t put off by the toughness of it).

Okarito

There are some nice walks in the small village of Okarito. We had a look around and checked out the beach but didn’t do the walks. We’ll be back though. The Okarito Trig Walk looks good and this is also prime kiwi spotting country.

Best Walks in Fox Glacier

There aren’t quite as many walks in and around Fox Glacier township, but the ones there are iconic, including one of the most scenic reflective lakes in New Zealand.

Fox Glacier Track

The walk to the closest viewpoint of Fox Glacier is full of awesome views. It takes around an hour to do and you’ll be surrounded by the snow-capped peaks surrounding the valley. Again, this track is sometimes closed (or sections of it are), so it may look a little different when you visit. There’s also the South Side Walk, but this seems to have been mostly washed away and from reviews I’ve read it isn’t that good at the moment.

Lake Matheson Track

The track around Lake Matheson is flat, short and easy, but there’s nothing flat about the views on offer. On a clear day (with not too much wind) you’ll see the magnificent Mount Cook reflecting in the water.

It’s an awesome site – no wonder this viewpoint is an Instagram favourite and something that almost every visitor to the Glacier Country will want to see.

Gillespies Beach

If you’re camping in the Glacier Country you’ll want to head down the bumpy gravel road to Gillespies Beach. There you’ll find a camping ground – on one side is the beach and the other (a long way away) is the Southern Alps.

Sunset at Gillespies Beach, West Coast, New Zealand

It’s a great place to watch the sunset, and there are several walking tracks nearby which take you away from the camping ground and along the coast.

Hiking at Gillespies Beach, West Coast, New Zealand

Lake Gault + Mount Fox Route

This is quite a new track in Fox Glacier and we haven’t had a chance to do it yet. From photos it seems like a budget version of Lake Matheson, but I’m sure it has its charms. If you’ve done this track, please let us know what it’s like! Also, I recently read about the Mount Fox Route — it looks similar to Alex Knob but a lot harder — it seems you’re kinda pulling yourself up the side of a mountain and it doesn’t sound like much fun to us — again, let us know if you’ve done it!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.