Franz Josef Glacier Walk
Franz Josef Glacier Walk

Glacier is a massive body of ice that slowly moves over land. I have never seen one before. It was the topic of the day after a mind blowing walk at Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Our family bat mobile was back on the road on Day 15. The drive from Punakaiki to Franz Josef took us longer than 3 hours. Rain poured. Grey clouds descended and covered the mountaintops on the left hand side of the road. The sea on the right kept us company throughout the drive along State Highway 6 Kumara Junction Highway.

Drive from Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier Township
Drive from Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier Township

Greymouth

We stopped in Greymouth to refuel. Not for our car, but for our growling bellies. We searched for an inexpensive restaurant in a commercial zone on Mackay Street. The covered walkway provided immediate relief from the heavy drizzle as soon as we parked our car in front of Moroccan Grill and Bar. We sat at a large table where we stuffed ourselves with shared orders of mixed platters, salad bowls and wraps. After lunch, we strolled around the commercial district peering into shops. Since we had nothing planned, we had plenty of time. Our only goal that day was to reach our destination- Franz Josef.

Greymouth
Greymouth

Greymouth is a town on the central west coast of New Zealand's South Island known for gold mining, jade-hunting and river floods. On the way, we spotted a signage to visit Point Elizabeth known for its 2-hour walk on a scenic reserve and old gold mining sites. After a hiking overload in the Abel Tasman, Tauranga Bay and Punakaiki the previous days, we took it easy and set our sights on the planned major hikes in the days to come.

Just before the parking ticket expired, I took over the wheels and drove.

Stopover in Hokitika
Stopover in Hokitika

Hokitika

By the time we reached Hokitika, it was time to refuel the family bat mobile.

"Hokitika, tell me what's wrong!"

Out of nowhere, I suddenly belted out the popular Abba song inside the car that woke up the family. Yes, that was typically me. Hence the nickname Ally Mc Beal that I got in college. Oops, my bad for disrupting their nap.

Speaking of nicknames, Hokitika's called The Cool Little Town. Too bad we didn't stay long to find out.

Apparently, what I just said was a common phrase to describe this small town. -

"I wish we had stayed in Hokitika longer. "

We seized the opportunity to sight-see around the commercial district with the limited time we had. The town is known for watching sunsets at Tasman Bay, unwinding at Hokitika Beach, cycling through West Coast Wilderness Trail, visiting Hokitika Gorge, Lake Kaniere and Lake Mahinapua.

Franz Josef Glacier Township on State Highway 6
Franz Josef Glacier Township on State Highway 6

Franz Josef Glacier Township

By the end of the afternoon, we finally reached Franz Josef. The navigator failed. We took several missed turns, before we finally spotted our accommodation, Chateau Backpacker Lodge for that next two nights. It was tucked away in quiet Condon Street that was half residential and half populated by inns and hotels.

Thankfully, there was parking space. When check-in was done, I grabbed my camera and we set off to explore the small town on foot while the sun was still up. Sunlight streamed down towards the valley, while restaurants filled the streets with delicious aroma of different hot meals.

Cowan Street Franz Josef Glacier Township
Cowan Street Franz Josef Glacier Township

Visitor i-Site Franz Josef Glacier Township
Visitor i-Site Franz Josef Glacier Township

Debating what to eat that evening
Debating what to eat that evening

After we debated what to eat that evening, we watched tourists sip their pints of draft beer, while servers placed their orders in front of them. Yes, it was a perfect evening to dine al fresco, but our family had already spent the maximum meal allowance that day. Our backpacker lodge was serving free vegetable soup in the shared kitchen by 6 pm that evening. We headed back to prepare our home cooked meal of leftovers.

Chateau Backpackers & Motels Dining Hall for dinner
Chateau Backpackers & Motels Dining Hall for dinner

Day 16: We woke up early the next day to catch the buffet breakfast the backpacker lodge was serving. Bread and butter was the norm throughout the trip. So to have pancakes and other types of breakfast such as eggs and bacon was a welcoming change.

Flow rate 1.5 to 7 meters per day
Flow rate 1.5 to 7 meters per day

Glacier Scenic Flights and Heli-Hike Tours

Helicopters zipped past overhead. Heli-hike tours are popular among tourists who want to hike on the glaciers. There are Scenic Heli Flights for those who want to skip hiking altogether, but would like to soar above and capture the panoramic views of the Southern Alps, Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier, Aoraki Mount Cook, and Tasman Sea.

@iamyohann hiked the glaciers with a group in 2001. He shared his adventure with us inside the family bat mobile on our way to Glacier Access Road. It was roughly 10 minutes drive (4.3 km) from Franz Josef Glacier township to the rugged looking carpark.

The helicopter tours were out of the question. We decided to hike it.

" I like to move it, move it " song played in my head.

The Hike
The Hike

Hike to Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier Walk also known as Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk is a 5.4 kilometer walk with return via same track in a volatile landscape prone to ice collapse, flooding or landslides. Duration of the hike is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Self Guided Track
Self Guided Track

Let's walk
Let's walk

Riverbed Trail
Riverbed Trail

Clear Water at the Trident Falls
Clear Water at the Trident Falls

Trident Falls
Trident Falls

We may not be able to walk on ice, but at least we'll get a glimpse of the 12 kilometer glacier that is sadly rapidly receding. The valley is a hazardous environment as the glacier is constantly moving. The track is sometimes closed for visits due to rock falls, river surges and flooding. Moderate rain could affect a rise in water levels of the creek up to 1 meter.


  • It is wise to check the forecasts prior to your trip.
  • Bring a bottle of drinking water.
  • Bring waterproof and warm clothes for frequent weather changes
  • Apply Insect repellent and sun protection
  • Wear comfortable shoes

Note: No drones allowed.


It is categorized as an easy walking track following a rugged riverbed path. The first 15 minutes was an easy forest walk. During the hike, we spotted Trident Falls that led to walking on the rocky riverbed. The final part of the hike is a climb towards the barricaded viewing deck.

Each of us hiked at our own pace, so we had plenty of quiet reflective time.

Managed to take a lot of photos on our return
Managed to take a lot of photos on our return

Happy to have captured them walking together
Happy to have captured them walking together

Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier

Waiho River
Waiho River

The track and the entire township were wrapped with this inexplicable eerie yet melancholic vibe. A feeling that my mother-in-law and I shared but couldn't find the words to explain why.

Souvenir Photo with the Glacier
Souvenir Photo with the Glacier

I Hiked Alone Back to Town

As soon as we returned to the almost empty car park, the family hopped in. Just like that, I decided to walk all the way back to the township on my own. I wanted more alone-time and this grey mood invited me to get wrapped up inside my thoughts while walking. I waved goodbye to them as I watched the car disappear in the distance.

Glacier Access Road
Glacier Access Road

There was hardly any pavement for pedestrians during one- third of this 4.3 kilometer walk. I missed the sign that there is a cycleway **Te Ara a Waiau Walkway **parallel to the glacier access road. Later, I joined the walkway when it merged next to the access road along Waiho River. It was a pleasant walk. The tree colors stood out vividly.

4.3 Kilometer Walk
4.3 Kilometer Walk

Cycle way next to the Glacier Access Road
Cycle way next to the Glacier Access Road

Te Ara a Waiau Walkway next to the access road
Te Ara a Waiau Walkway next to the access road

Te Ara a Waiau Walkway along Waiho River
Te Ara a Waiau Walkway along Waiho River

Need to cross Waiho River to get to the township
Need to cross Waiho River to get to the township

Waiho Bailey Bridge
Waiho Bailey Bridge

Pedestrian Access to the Bridge
Pedestrian Access to the Bridge

Content and happy to return to the lodge, we had the rest of the afternoon to wash and dry our clothes. It had been a physical day.
The rest of the evening was well spent to recharge for our next adventures the next day - The Fox Glacier Hike and Lake Matheson Walk.

To be continued..