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Glacier Region Walks: West Coast Tai Poutini


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Karole Carlo



Exploring the stunning glacier regions of the West Coast Tai Poutini in New Zealand offers a unique and exhilarating adventure. Nestled amidst breathtaking landscapes, these glacier walks provide an opportunity to witness the raw beauty of nature up close.


The West Coast Tai Poutini region is home to two remarkable glaciers: Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. These colossal ice formations, remnants of the last ice age, attract adventure enthusiasts from around the world. But the region offers more than just glacier walks; there are also other remarkable trails and tracks to discover.


Whether you’re a seasoned hiker seeking a challenging trek or a leisurely walker yearning for captivating scenery, the West Coast Tai Poutini has something to offer everyone. Lace up your boots and embark on a journey of unforgettable experiences amid the pristine wilderness.


In this article, we will delve into six exciting routes and walks that showcase the stunning beauty of the West Coast Tai Poutini, each with its own unique features and offerings. From the mesmerizing glacier valleys to enchanting lakes and pristine beaches, these walks promise to take you on a memorable adventure through New Zealand’s remarkable landscape.


Route 1: Fox Glacier Valley Walk

The Fox Glacier Valley Walk is an enchanting journey that allows you to witness the grandeur of Fox Glacier up close. This walk begins at the car park across the road from the Fox Glacier car park. As you venture along the path, you’ll be greeted with magnificent views of towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, and lush rainforests.


The walk is approximately 1.5 kilometers long and takes about one hour to complete. It is a relatively easy walk suitable for all ages and fitness levels. As you make your way through the valley, you’ll be mesmerized by the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds you.


One of the highlights of the Fox Glacier Valley Walk is the opportunity to admire the majestic Fox Glacier from a distance. The glacier, spanning over 13 kilometers, is a sight to behold as it descends from the Southern Alps down into the valley. The sparkling blue ice against the backdrop of the mountains is a truly breathtaking sight.


Along the way, you’ll have the chance to learn about the geological features of the region through informative signs and displays. The constant sound of flowing water as you pass by the Fox River adds to the peaceful ambiance of the walk.


It is important to note that due to the dynamic nature of glaciers, access to Fox Glacier itself is restricted for safety reasons. However, the Fox Glacier Valley Walk provides a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the glacier’s beauty from a safe distance.


Make sure to bring appropriate walking shoes, water, and sunscreen. This walk is best enjoyed during the spring and summer months when the weather is calm and the scenery is at its most vibrant.


The Fox Glacier Valley Walk is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts and those seeking to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the West Coast Tai Poutini region. It offers a tantalizing glimpse into the world of glaciers, mountains, and pristine natural landscapes that will stay with you long after the walk is complete.


Route 2: Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk

The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is an unforgettable experience that takes you on a journey through the captivating landscape surrounding the Franz Josef Glacier. This walk starts from the car park at the end of the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road, and it offers a mesmerizing glimpse into the ever-changing world of glaciers.


The walk spans approximately 2 kilometers and can be completed in about 1.5 hours, depending on your pace and the time you take to admire the stunning scenery along the way. As you begin the walk, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush native rainforest, with towering mountains serving as a dramatic backdrop.


One of the highlights of the Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is the opportunity to witness the glacier’s dynamic nature firsthand. Although you won’t be able to hike onto the glacier itself, you’ll be able to see the ever-shifting ice as it descends from the mountains to the valley below. The deep crevasses and icy blue tones make for a truly remarkable sight.


Throughout the walk, you’ll come across informational boards that provide insight into the formation and behavior of glaciers. These displays offer a deeper understanding of the role glaciers play in shaping the landscape and the delicate balance they maintain with the environment.


As you follow the trail, you’ll also have the chance to discover hidden waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides, adding to the magical atmosphere of the walk. Take a moment to pause and enjoy the sights and sounds of this natural wonder.


Keep in mind that weather conditions can change rapidly in this region, so it’s important to come prepared with appropriate clothing and footwear. Be sure to check the local weather forecast before embarking on the walk and follow any safety guidelines provided by park officials.


The Franz Josef Glacier Valley Walk is a testament to nature’s grandeur and offers an opportunity to connect with the power and beauty of the West Coast Tai Poutini region. It’s a must-do experience for anyone visiting this part of New Zealand and guarantees to leave you awe-inspired by the majesty of the Franz Josef Glacier.


Route 3: Helicopter Access to Franz Josef Glacier

If you’re looking for a truly extraordinary way to experience the Franz Josef Glacier, taking a helicopter tour is an exhilarating option. This route allows you to witness the glacier’s awe-inspiring beauty from a unique vantage point and offers a thrilling adventure that is sure to create lasting memories.


The helicopter tour starts from the town of Franz Josef and takes you on a breathtaking journey across the picturesque landscape surrounding the glacier. As you soar above the towering mountains and vast icy expanse, you’ll be treated to unparalleled panoramic views that few get to witness.


One of the highlights of the helicopter tour is the opportunity to land on the glacier itself. As the helicopter gently touches down on the pristine ice, you’ll have the chance to step out and immerse yourself in this frozen wonderland. Walking on the glacier’s surface is a surreal experience that will make you feel like you’re in a different world.


During the tour, the knowledgeable pilot will provide fascinating insights about the glacier’s formation, movement, and the unique features that make it so extraordinary. You’ll learn about the constant transformation that the glacier undergoes and the impact of climate change on its future existence.


Be prepared to witness stunning ice formations, deep crevasses, and vibrant blue hues as you explore the glacier. This rare opportunity to explore a glacier up close is a thrilling adventure you won’t soon forget.


It’s important to note that helicopter tours to the Franz Josef Glacier are weather-dependent. The region’s unpredictable weather patterns mean that flights may be delayed or rescheduled for safety reasons. It’s recommended to book your tour in advance and stay flexible with your schedule.


Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the awe-inspiring vistas and the breathtaking moments of this helicopter adventure. This route offers a unique and exhilarating way to experience the Franz Josef Glacier, allowing you to forge a deep connection with this natural wonder and appreciate its beauty from an unparalleled perspective.


Route 4: Lake Matheson Walk

The Lake Matheson Walk is a picturesque journey that takes you around one of the most famous reflective lakes in New Zealand. Known for its mirror-like surface that perfectly reflects the surrounding mountains, Lake Matheson offers a tranquil and ethereal setting to explore.


The walk begins at the car park near the Matheson Cafe and covers a distance of approximately 2.6 kilometers, taking about 1.5 hours to complete. As you follow the well-maintained track, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Southern Alps, including the majestic peaks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.


One of the highlights of this walk is the opportunity to capture the iconic mirror reflections of the mountains on the calm waters of Lake Matheson. For the most stunning reflections, it’s recommended to visit during dawn or dusk when the light is softer, and the tranquility of the surroundings enhances the magical experience.


The walk takes you through lush rainforests, wooden boardwalks, and open grasslands, providing a varied and captivating journey. The serene atmosphere and the diverse native flora and fauna add to the special charm of Lake Matheson.


Along the way, you’ll find informative panels that share the intriguing history, geology, and Maori legends associated with the lake and its surroundings. These provide fascinating insights into the cultural and natural significance of this magnificent area.


Make sure to bring your camera and plenty of patience as photographing the perfect reflection may require some waiting for the ideal conditions and timing. Additionally, wearing appropriate footwear and carrying water are essential for a comfortable walk.


Completing the Lake Matheson Walk offers a peaceful and reflective experience, quite literally. The breathtaking views, the tranquility of the surroundings, and the opportunity to capture the reflections of the Southern Alps on the mirror-like lake surface combine to create a truly magical and memorable adventure.


Route 5: Gillespie’s Beach Walk

Gillespie’s Beach Walk is a hidden gem on the West Coast Tai Poutini. Located near the town of Fox Glacier, this walk offers a unique combination of stunning coastal scenery, rich history, and fascinating wildlife.


The walk begins at Gillespie’s Beach car park and follows a 2.4-kilometer track that winds its way through coastal dunes, native forests, and expansive sandy shores. As you make your way along the path, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea and the rugged coastline. The sound of crashing waves and the fresh sea breeze create a captivating atmosphere.


One of the highlights of Gillespie’s Beach Walk is the chance to explore the remnants of historical gold mining sites. This area was once a bustling center of activity during the gold rush era, and you can still find old mining equipment and structures scattered along the beach. It’s like stepping back in time and discovering a piece of New Zealand’s fascinating history.


The beach also provides an important nesting ground for the rare and endangered Westland petrel. If you’re lucky, you may spot these incredible seabirds as they soar through the sky or rest on the rocky outcrops. Keep an eye out for other bird species, such as the variable oystercatcher and the white-faced heron, which also frequent the area.


As you continue along the walk, take a moment to appreciate the untouched beauty of the coastline. The juxtaposition of rugged mountains, pristine beaches, and wild ocean creates a breathtaking scene that will leave you in awe of nature’s power and artistry.


It’s important to note that parts of the beach are only accessible during low tide, so make sure to check the tide times before embarking on the walk. Additionally, be prepared with appropriate footwear and clothing, as the weather can change rapidly in this coastal area.


Gillespie’s Beach Walk provides an opportunity to connect with both nature and history, offering a truly unique experience on the West Coast Tai Poutini. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the rugged coastline, discover remnants of the gold rush era, and cherish the serenity of this hidden coastal paradise.


Route 6: Copland Track

The Copland Track is a stunning hiking trail that allows you to explore the remote and untouched beauty of the West Coast Tai Poutini. This multi-day track takes you on a wilderness adventure through dense rainforests, alpine meadows, and rugged mountain valleys.


The track begins near the Copland Pass Road and stretches for approximately 18 kilometers, leading you deep into the heart of the Southern Alps. The hike is usually completed over two to three days, with overnight stays at the Welcome Flat Hut or the Douglas Rock Hut.


One of the highlights of the Copland Track is the chance to relax and rejuvenate in the natural hot pools at Welcome Flat. After a day of hiking, there’s nothing quite like soaking in these therapeutic thermal waters surrounded by stunning mountain vistas and lush greenery.


As you traverse the track, you’ll be immersed in the diverse and vibrant ecosystems that make up the West Coast Tai Poutini region. From dense native forests teeming with birdlife to panoramic alpine meadows adorned with wildflowers, the scenery along the Copland Track is nothing short of breathtaking.


Throughout the hike, keep an eye out for New Zealand’s unique and endemic wildlife. Keas, the mischievous alpine parrots, are often spotted along the track, as well as native birds such as tūī and bellbirds. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive South Island brown kiwi.


It’s important to note that the Copland Track is considered a moderately challenging hike, and a moderate level of fitness is required. Ensure you have proper hiking gear, adequate food and water supplies, and be prepared for changing weather conditions. It’s recommended to check weather and track conditions before setting off and to inform someone about your hiking plans.


The Copland Track offers a wilderness experience like no other, immersing you in the raw beauty and serenity of the West Coast Tai Poutini region. From soothing hot pools to awe-inspiring landscapes, this track promises an unforgettable adventure for those willing to venture into the untamed wilderness.



The West Coast Tai Poutini region is a playground for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. From the majestic glaciers of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier to the tranquil shores of Lake Matheson and Gillespie’s Beach, the region offers a diverse range of walks and trails that showcase its breathtaking beauty.


Whether you choose to explore the glacier valleys, embark on a helicopter tour, or immerse yourself in the remote wilderness of the Copland Track, you’ll be rewarded with unforgettable experiences and breathtaking scenery at every turn. Each route provides a unique perspective on the natural wonders of the West Coast Tai Poutini, allowing you to forge a deep connection with the power and splendor of the region.


As you venture on these walks, take a moment to appreciate the delicate balance of nature and the impact of climate change on these precious landscapes. Respect the environment and follow any guidelines or restrictions in place to ensure the preservation of these natural treasures for future generations to enjoy.


Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual walker, the West Coast Tai Poutini region beckons you to explore its remarkable trails and immerse yourself in its pristine beauty. From the awe-inspiring glaciers to the captivating coastal vistas, each route promises moments of awe, tranquility, and connection with the natural world.


So, lace up your boots, pack your camera, and embark on an adventure through the West Coast Tai Poutini. Get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime and discover the true beauty of New Zealand’s remarkable landscape.