The 90 minute round trip walk to Franz Josef Glacier is one of the best short hikes in New Zealand. The track, which cuts through a glacier carved valley, has a few highlights, including three side by side waterfalls, the Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint and the elevated view from Sentinel Rock.
Update 2021: Most this track us currently closed. You can walk to a viewpoint of the valley, and up to Sentinel Rock, but that’s about it. The two photos you can see below were taken recently — it’s still well worth doing. I left the rest of this post as it was, hopefully it’ll reopen soon! Also check out Peters Pool, which is very close to the start of this track, and Alex Knob is you’re keen for a much longer hike (the views are amazing up there).
Sentinel Rock Viewpoint
The Sentinel Rock viewpoint is a 15-20 minute detour close to the start of the Franz Josef Glacier Track. It’s worth the short uphill hike, as the higher elevation gives you a great view of the valley. The valley looks so lush and green from up there, especially on a sunny day.
The Franz Josef Glacier Track
After the uphill hike to Sentinel Rock, the track is fairly straightforward and easy. You’ll pass another, slightly less elevated viewpoint before heading down the valley floor.
I’m not entirely sure if all three of these waterfalls are permanent or there had just been a lot of recent rain. It turned out to be the highlight of the hike though. There are heaps more waterfalls (most of which probably aren’t permanent) visible from the track. That, combined with the rugged green hills creates the kind of setting you’re likely to see in an upcoming Jurassic Park movie (assuming they keep making them — the last one wasn’t great).
Franz Josef Glacier
After passing the waterfalls and hiking along the flat valley floor, you’ll soon come to a small uphill section leading to the final Franz Josef Glacier viewpoint. Franz Josef Glacier has receded a lot over the last century or two, and these days you can only get a fairly distant view of it. The viewpoint is pretty good though, especially on a nice clear day (which is rare in these parts). There’s a little bit of uphill walking to get there but it’s easy enough for most people. Make sure to wear good shoes. If you want to actually walk on the Franz Josef Glacier there are options, but you’ll have to join a tour. It also looks like an amazing place to fly over in a helicopter – hopefully we’ll do that on our next trip to the West Coast.
When is the best time to hike to Franz Josef Glacier?
Apparently it’s best in the morning, as it often clouds over in the afternoon. The light is pretty good in the morning too (we were there at around 10 am). It rains a lot on the West Coast and it’s quite common to have to do this hike in miserable weather. We actually did it in the rain a few years ago — we enjoyed it so much more the second time around!
Getting to Franz Josef Glacier
The start of the track is located around 5 km from Franz Josef, a bustling West Coast tourist town. If you’re on a budget and travelling by bus it’s possible to walk there from town. Franz Josef is around 1.45 hours from Hokitika and is only 30 minutes or so from Fox Glacier. If you’re driving you can easily see both glaciers within a few hours.
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