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10 Best Walks in Franz Josef

Andrea Schaffer on Flickr

Walking & HIking trails in Franz Josef.

Franz Josef might be famous for having one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, but it’s the hiking trails that we get the most excited about – Franz Josef is full of them! Choose short walks through the forest, suitable for children, buggies, wheelchairs and mountain bikes, or see the Franz Josef Glacier on one of the longer hikes. Explore the sub-alpine terrain among the dramatic glacier valley scenery and discover vibrant and luxuriant rainforests. Most of the walks start along the Glacier Access Road, easily accessed from the town on foot via the Te Ara a Waiau Walk (2 hours return). So pick your hikes with this list of walks in Franz Josef.

While you’re here, you might also be interested in 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Franz Josef and 10 Facts You Did Not Know About New Zealand’s Glaciers.

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1. Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk (1h30min return)

Walk through a breathtaking glacial valley to a viewpoint before the Franz Josef terminal face. The walk features the beautiful Trident Falls. Stick to the trail formed on the rocky riverbed and stay behind the barriers. For more ways to see the glacier, check out 5 Franz Josef Glacier Must-Dos.

Location: Glacier Access Road, 5km from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge.
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2. Sentinel Rock Walk (20 minutes return)

A popular walk offering more impressive views of Franz Josef Glacier is the Sentinel Rock Walk. It’s a short climb with rewarding views of the glacier valley, Franz Josef Glacier and the Waiho River.

Location: Glacier Access Road, 5km from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge.
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3. Peters Pool/Douglas Walk (20 minutes return)

Enjoy the scenery of this small lake filled with dark tannins to reflect the views of the glacier valley. The kettle lake was formed by melting ice around 200 years ago.

Location: Glacier Access Road, 5km from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge.
Andrea Schaffer on Flickr

4. Alex Knob Track (8 hours return)

If you’re looking for a full-day adventure, then set your sights on the Alex Knob Track. Get away from the busy hiking trails and enjoy the sub-alpine terrain along this trail. The track zig-zags to the Rata Lookout offering tremendous views of Franz Josef Glacier. From there, you can continue following trail markers to the summit.

Location: Glacier Access Road, 3km from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge (before you reach the car park – signposted on the right side of the road).
Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia

5. Okarito Coastal Walk (3h30mins return)

Harbouring one of the most important ecosystems in New Zealand, the Okarito Lagoon is home to more than 76 species of native birds including the incredibly rare white heron and royal spoonbill. The Okartio Coastal Walk (Three Mile Pack Track) follows the Okarito Wetland Walk through coastal forest to Kahuamarua Bluff. The walk then drops down to Three Mile Lagoon. It is possible to return along the beach at low tide. Otherwise, return the way you came.

Location: The Strand, Okarito. 27km southwest of Franz Josef.
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6. Okarito Trig Walk (1h30min return)

Start on the Okarito Wetland Walk and gently climb up to a viewpoint. From here, you’ll get panoramic views of lagoons, glaciers, the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps.

Location: The Strand, Okarito. 27km southwest of Franz Josef.
Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia

7. Lake Wombat Track (1h30min return)

Follow this easy walk through the luxuriant rainforest to another kettle lake formed by the Franz Josef Glacier. This small lake was formed around 9,000 years ago. The walk also offers good birdwatching.

Location: Glacier Access Road, 3km from Franz Josef just south of the Waiho River Bridge (before you reach the car park – signposted on the right side of the road).
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8. Terrace Walk (30 minutes return)

Come to this walk after dark for a chance to see glowworms alongside the track and hanging from fallen trees. Otherwise, the Terrace Walk is a stunning little walk through the West Coast forest.

Location: Southern end of Franz Josef village near the Our Lady Alps Church.
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9. Tatare Tunnels Walk (1h20min return)

Explore some old water tunnels blanketed in moss on the Tarare Tunnels Walk. The walk starts off on the 4WD road before dropping to reveal a view of the picturesque Tatare Gorge. It’s a steep and narrow descent toward the tunnels. The tunnels have ankle-deep water and often drip with water so be prepared to get wet.

Location: End of Cowan Street.
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10. Callery Gorge Walk (1h20min return)

See old gold mining relics on your way to the stunning Callery Gorge. The walk follows a terrace ascending up the back of Franz Josef town before following an old gold mining water race and passing abandoned mining relics. The track then descends to the Callery Gorge Bridge where you’ll see the narrow Callery Gorge. Return the same way.

Location: End of Cowan Street. Walk five minutes along the Tatare Tunnels Track (see above) before the Callery Gorge Walk branches off.
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