Westland Tai Poutini National Park is located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The park was established in 1960, on the centenary of European settlement in the Westland district of the country.
It covers around 1,175 square kilometres, extending from the highest points of the Southern Alps all the way down to the wild and remote coastline. The park borders another National Park, the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park along the Main Divide. The park is home to a diverse collection of terrains, from mountain glaciers, to scenic lakes, to temperate rainforest, to rugged coastline. The coastline and mountain ranges within the park are revered by the Maori people, both spiritually and for the food and resources it provides.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park: What to Do
For many visitors, the main attractions are the fast-moving Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. These immense glaciers are both stunning and puzzling. The glaciers follow huge valleys down from the mountains and extend well beyond the snowline, nearly all the way down to the sea. The Fox glacier is 13 kilometres in length, descending almost 2,600 metres down from the Southern Alps. The Fox glacier is fed by four alpine glaciers that receive around 30 metres of snowfall each year. The Franz Josef glacier is slightly smaller, measuring only 12 kilometres long, but still extends down from high in the Southern Alps to within 20 kilometres of the Tasman Sea.
The Franz Josef is also fed by a high altitude snowfield measuring around 20 square kilometres. Over time, the snow feeding both glaciers is compacted into blue ice that is hundreds of metres thick. That ice then slides down the mountain, lubricated by the ice at the bottom melting due to the extreme pressure exerted on it by the ice above. By the time the ice has reached the bottom of the hill, it is still over 300 metres thick.
These conditions, coupled with the significant snowfall feeding the glaciers, allow them to flow around 10 times faster than most valley glaciers. In fact, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers can move as fast as four metres per day, which is an astonishing rate for a glacier. Visitors to the feet of the respective glaciers will even be able to hear the cracking and crushing sounds of the ice grinding down the valley.
There are a variety of ways to experience the glaciers. Professional guides lead a variety of tours, including a 1.5 hour walk up the glacier valley as well as treks to the terminus of either glacier. There are also hikes through the forest to various glacial viewpoints that provide walkers with stunning views of the glaciers. If you don’t feel up for walking, there are also helicopters or ski planes that can take you up to where the glaciers begin.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park; Walking:
Walking is another popular activity in Westland Tai Poutini National Park . There are a variety of tracks catering to a variety of fitness levels and walking experiences. Ranging from short, easy walks to challenging multiday excursions, there is a walk for everyone in Tai Poutini. Here is a quick guide to hiking in the park.
1) Alex Knob Track: This is an 8-hour, round trip walk to the top of Alex Knob. Difficulty: Advanced.
2) Callery Gorge Walk: This hour and twenty minute walk follows the Callery Gorge to the Callery River. Difficulty: Easy.
3) Canavans Knob Walk: This walk will take between an hour and an hour and forty minutes. It takes visitors up Canavans Knob, providing them with stunning views of the surrounding moutains, glaciers, and river flats. Difficulty: Easiest.
4) Copand Track to Welcome Flat Hut: This tramp up the Copland Valley is a very popular trip for visitors to the park. This is a two-day trek that will require visitors to stay in the Welcome Flat Hut. The hut requires the purchase of a hut ticket prior to setting out on the walk. Difficulty: Intermediate.
5) Douglas Walk: This is a one hour forest walk that will take visitors past the Peters Pool Viewpoint, several moraines, and Dolly Creek. Difficulty: Easy.
6) Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe Valley Walk: This is a one hour walk that allows visitors to enjoy wonderful views of the Fox Glacier from the viewing area. Difficulty: Easiest.
7) Franz Josef Glacier/Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk: This 1 – ½ walk follows a rocky riverbed up to the Franz Josef Glacier viewing area. Difficulty: Easy.
8) Karangarua and Douglas Valleys Routes: These routes crisscross the Karangarua and Douglas Valleys, which are ideal locations for hunting, mountaineering, and tramping. The routes will take at least two days. Difficulty: Expert.
9) Lake Matheson Walk: This is a short, 40-minutes to 1- ½ hour walk that allows walkers to enjoy truly spectacular mountain views, and mountain reflections in the tranquil waters of Lake Matheson. This walk is one of the most popular on the West Coast of New Zealand for its fantastic views. Difficulty: Easiest.
10) Lake Wombat Track: A 1-½ hour walk through rimu forest to Lake Wombat. Difficulty: Easiest.
11) Minnehaha Walk: A short, 20-minute walk through the rainforest. Difficulty: Easiest.
12) Moraine Walk: A short 30-minute walk past old moraine surfaces south of Fox Glacier township. Difficulty: Easiest.
13) Mount Fox Route: This 8-hour walk provides stunning views. It is located 3 kilometres south of Mount Fox township. Difficulty: Expert.
14) Pakihi Walk: A 30-minute walk through kamahi and rimu forest to a platrform lookout. Difficulty: Easiest.
15) Peters Pool Walk: Wonderful reflective views of the glacial valley and the mountains on this 25-minute walk to a small kettle lake. Difficulty: Easiest.
16) River Walk: A 40-minute walk offering great views of the glacier. Crosses an historic suspension bridge. Difficulty: Easy.
17) River Walk Lookout Track: A 20-minute walk through the rainforest a lookout with wonderful views of Fox Glacier.
18) Roberts Point Track: A 5-hour and 20-minute walk that requires a good level of fitness. Difficulty: Advanced.
19) Sentinel Rock Walk: A short 20-minute walk with impressive glacial and Waiho River views. Difficulty: Easiest.
20) Tatare Tunnels Walk: An 80-minute walk that follows an old 4WD track to old water tunnels. Difficulty: Easy.
21) Te Ara A Waiau Walkway/Cycleway: This track is suitable for both walking and cycling. It takes about 2-hours walking and travels between the Franz Josef Glacier car park and the Franz Josef township. Difficulty: Easy.
22) Te Weheka Walkway/Cycleway: This track is suitable for both walking and cycling. It travels between the Fox Glacier car park and the Fox Glacier township. It takes around 2-hours and 20-minutes walking. Difficulty: Easy.
23) Terrace Walk: A short, 30-minute walk that takes visitors through the forest and past old gold mining operations. Difficulty: Easiest.
24) Upper Copland Valley Track: The Upper Copland Valley Track provides access to Douglas Rock Hut. This is a very popular track for experienced trampers and it provides wonderful views and a variety of terrain. It is an excursion that should take a least three days. Difficulty: Advanced, expert.
25) Waitangitaona Wetland Walk: This is a short, 20-minute walk through a regenerating kahikatea forest and flax wetland. The track takes walkers to a viewing platform with spectacular views of the Southern Alps. Difficulty: Easiest.
In addition to the extensive walking tracks through the park, the rainforest at the base of the Southern Alps serves as an excellent birdwatching area. There are a variety of birds that call the various terrains in the park home, including the white heron. Additionally, hunters will enjoy hunting season in certain parts of the park, of course only with a permit. Of course, what would a mountainous area be without skiing as well.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park Where to Stay
Tai Poutini National Park is filled with a variety of different accommodation options that are sure to meet your needs. Climbers and ski-tourers can stay in the many alpine huts located in the park’s higher elevations. Additionally, the towns of Fox Glacier and Franz Josef have a full range of accommodation, ranging from budget backpacker’s hostels to luxurious hotels. These towns also have a wide range of restaurants, cafes, and other services for visitors to the area.
Traveling from Abroad to Westland Tai Poutini National Park?
The closest commercial airport to the park is in Hokitika, which has daily flights from Christchurch. Hokitika is about 1-½ hours by car from Tai Poutini. There is also bus service between the two locations.