The first 15 minutes is an easy (fully accessible) forest walk to a river bank view of the glacier.
Continuing from the end of the forest walk, follow the markers in the riverbed past Trident Falls to a point close to the terminal face of the glacier. This is not a track but a route over the shingle and rock of the riverbed and it can be quite rough underfoot – make sure you have suitable footwear.
The final section of track to the safety barriers includes a short climb to the viewing area. Do not go past the barriers and pay attention to all signage as areas of the valley are hazardous and are not safe for visitors.
This is a beautiful yet volatile place – do not let the serene scene fool you. The glacier is constantly moving. Ice and rock fall from the terminal face without warning. Creeks may rise up to a metre in even moderate rain. Water levels rise in as little as 15 minutes.
Drive or walk 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. Drive or walk for approximately 4 km to the car park at the end of the road.
The Franz Josef Glacier valley is a hazardous environment. The access road and tracks can be closed due to rock falls or flooded rivers, and glacier viewpoints may be hundreds of metres from the face of the glacier.
The weather can change at any time. Walking to the glacier is over rough and uneven ground and can involve crossing streams. Be prepared to turn back if conditions are not favourable or you are outside your comfort zone. Check the Westland Tai Poutini National Park weather forecast – NIWA website.
The main hazards in the glacier valley are:
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.
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.