On your Kiwi holiday, if you're heading up the West Coast from Wanaka or Queenstown, you’ll pass right through ‘Glacier Country’ and probably spend a night or two, that’s what we always do. This is one of those Kiwi spots that all the locals seem to take for granted, yeah, we’ve got rainforest, glacier and beach all around here, no big deal, but humble Kiwi-ness aside, we say ‘Yes big deal!’ and you will too, so getting out and walking amongst it all is a must, and with a little knowhow it’s all right there.
Our favourite short walks around Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
Fox Glacier Terminal Track / Te Weheka Walkway
Rainforest and glacier on the same short walk? Yep, easy as you like, you can do this from Fox Glacier township even. The new Te Weheka Walkway is dual cycle / walking track through rainforest as far as the Fox Glacier main carpark, then dedicated walking access out through the main glacial valley. Keep your eye out on the way up for the signs showing where the glacier was at different years, quite sobering!
Return from town is 8.4 km / 5 miles, if you’re just walking in from the main carpark it’s much less than this and often access is controlled by the Department of Conservation staff to keep us all safe.
Lake Matheson Track
Just out of Fox Glacier township, down the Cook Flat road, is the Lake Matheson loop track. It’s a pretty popular walk, but what’s great about it is that it’s a loop, meaning everyone’s going the same way. Lush rainforest all the way, the famous views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman reflecting in the water from the far end of the lake - at Reflection Island or ‘the View of Views’. Stop in at the Matheson Cafe after your walk for a break on the deck, best views in town! The Lake Matheson track is about 3.3 km / 2 miles return from the cafe, pretty flat but of course nothing in New Zealand is entirely flat!
Franz Josef Terminal Track
This is a bit more of a hike than the Fox Glacier terminal walk, and probably more stunning views of the glacier too. Rainforest and glacier on the same track here as well, with a few more side tracks to poke your nose up on the way. The contrast is amazing, one minute you’re in the lush green forest with moss dangling from the trees, the next you’re out in the middle of a glacial valley with sheer rock walls towering above you on each side! For real contrast on a walk, you don’t get better than this.
The return walk here is about 5.5 kilometres / 3.4 miles, you do walk out on the rocky valley floor, it’s an easy walk for any keen walker but make sure you’ve got your sturdy walking shoes on.
Okarito Trig Walk
Down by the beach, at the little settlement of Okarito, is this brilliant short walk, a little climb that will give you the most amazing panorama of everywhere you’ve been in Glacier Country - Okarito Lagoon, Franz Josef Glacier, the rainforest and the coast and of course Mount Cook and the Southern Alps. Around and hour and half to two hours will give you plenty of time to climb up to the peak to the lookout! When we’re visiting with friends, we reckon this walk after a glacier hike or kayaking on Okarito lagoon is the perfect way to spend the day on the coast.
Terrace Glow Worm Walk Franz Josef
Like a little evening stroll? We do to, and here’s a great short walk right in Franz Josef you’ll love, especially if you haven’t seen glow worms on your trip yet. The track starts right near the Visitor Centre in town, get a local or your guide to point you in the right direction. Old growth forest, old gold mine tailings and glow worms at night on this perfect after dinner walk. You’ll only need half an hour or so for the 1.8 km / 1.1 mile return walk.