IntroductionTake a short walk through the rainforest to view the Franz Josef Glacier valley.
The walk to the viewing area winds gently through the rainforest, with glimpses of the mountain tops, waterfalls and the upper glacier.
A short uphill section leads you to a view of the valley, with the Waiho River winding its way towards the coast. The river has cut off access up the valley, so it is not possible to go further on foot.
As the glacier retreats this is a good location to see the landscape left behind by the ice, and understand the natural forces at work.
This is a beautiful yet volatile place – do not let the serene scene fool you. Pay attention to all signage and do not go past the barriers as areas of the valley are hazardous and are not safe for visitors.
Drive, walk or cycle south from the Franz Josef Waiau township across the Waiho River bridge and turn left onto the Glacier Access Road or Te Ara a Waiau Walkway/Cycleway.
Drive, walk or cycle for approximately 4 km to the car park at the end of the road.
- The track and access road can be closed due to flooding, rockfall or landslides – check the latest track conditions and weather forecasts at the Westland/Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre before starting your trip.
- Always take warm and waterproof clothing as the weather can change rapidly.
- Carry drinking water, insect repellent and sun protection at all times.
- No drones allowed.
The main hazards in the glacier valley are:
- River surges: Glacial rivers can be dammed by ice falls and the dam could burst creating a huge surge of water and ice which floods the valley.
- Rock fall: Heavy rain can destabilise steep valley walls, causing rock fall. Do not stop in marked rock fall areas.
- Flooding: Downpours can create flooding within minutes. Follow the marked track, obey all signs and never cross barriers.
Don't make a fatal mistake! People have died or been seriously injured after ignoring signs and going over the barriers – you are taking a serious personal risk to get closer to the glacier. If you want to get closer to, or onto, the glacier there are experienced glacier guiding companies based in Franz Josef and Fox Glacier townships.
Daily glacier access update on Glacier Country website.
Changing glacier visits
Glacier visits have had to change because the landscape is on the move every day as the glacier retreats. Helicopters are the only safe way to get people onto the glacier for guided walks, so you will hear them pass overhead.