Westland Tai Poutini National Park New Zealand

Westland Tai Poutini National Park is on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, centrally located about half way up.

The landscape in the west ranges from lowland rainforests meeting the Tasman Sea, to glaciers forcing their way down through the landscape, and many peaks that reach heights of over three thousand metres.

It certainly is a wild place and one of my favourites to visit.

Attractions

Glaciers

The main attractions for many visitors to Westland Tai Poutini are the two well-known and accessible glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Both these glaciers move quite fast, and at up to speeds of 4 metres a day they can be incredibly noisy as they grind and force their way down through the rocks.

Westland National Park Glacier
Westland Tai Poutini National Park Glaciers - Fox Glacier

Permanent snow fields feed the glaciers but I was very surprised to see how much they had retreated in the time between my visits. The bottom Fox Glacier for example was way further back in 2008 than it was when I visited it the first time in 1992. The first time I went to the Glacier we parked our motorbike right at the bottom of the glacier, the second time I had to walk a considerable distance. To me it seemed like it had melted to be around 1km shorter than it was 16 years earlier.

Each glacier has a car park from which you can start on various walks. Up to date notice boards are given at the car parks.

Activities

Flights

Scenic flights and helicopter trips to the glaciers look brilliant; some include a hike on the glacier. Although not affordable to everyone, if your budget does stretch to a heli hike you will get to see a glacier in its entire glory close up by glacier walking. Be aware that bad weather can cause these flights to be cancelled through no fault of the operator.

Walks

There are many walks to choose from in this park, including short ones that take you to the end of the two popular glacier visits.

Check with the visitor centre as walks and tracks can be closed due to damage, rock falls, and flooding.

Franz Josef/Waiau

  • Alex Knob Track, 8 hours 17km return
  • Callery-Waiho Walk, 1 hr 20 min 5.2 km
  • Canavan's Knob Walk, 1 hr 3.2 km
  • Douglas Walk, 1 hr return 3.9 km
  • Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walking Track, 1 hr 30 min 5.4 km
  • Lake Wombat Track, 1 hr 30 min 3.8 km
  • Ōkārito walking tracks, from 20 minutes to 1hr 30 minutes
  • Pakihi Walk, 30 min 1 km
  • Roberts Point Track, 5 hr 11 km
  • Sentinel Rock Walk, 20 min 1km
  • Tatare Tunnels Walk, 1 hr 20 min 3.6 km
  • Terrace Walk, 30 min 1.8 km

Fox Glacier/Weheka

  • Chalet Lookout Track, 1 hr 30 min 3.6 km
  • Copland Track to Welcome Flat, 2 days (closed at short notice in adverse conditions)
  • Fox Glacier Te Moeka o Tuawe Valley Walk, 1 hr 2.6 km
  • Lake Matheson Walk, 40 min 1 km
  • Minnehaha Walk, 20 min 1.2 km
  • Moraine Walk, 40 min 1.4 km
  • River Walk, 40 min 1.5 km
  • River Walk Lookout, 20 min 800 m
  • Upper Copland valley, 3 days

Longer walks take you further inland and can be guided.

A popular 2 day walk in Westland National Park is the Welcome Flat Hot Springs and Copland Track... Copland Track to Welcome Flat. For accommodation there is the Welcome Flat Hut with bunks and/or camping, and the big attraction of this overnight walk is the natural hot springs!

Westland National Park Danger - Active Landslip / Rockfall Area
Westland National Park Danger - Active Landslip / Rockfall Area

Mountain Biking

You are only legally permitted to mountain bike along specific tracks such as at Franz Joseph, the Te Ara a Waiau track, and at Fox Glacier the Te Weheka track. Both tracks run from the villages to the car parks and cater for off-road biking. It is important for conservation that you do not ride off these tracks.

There are also two forests where mountain biking is permitted, Saltwater and North Ōkārito.

Rivers and Coast

River in Westland Tai Poutini National Park
River in Westland Tai Poutini National Park

Kayaking

Rivers and lakes for kayaking in the park self-guided and guided tours available.

Rivers winding their way down from the mountains to the West Coast can be pretty dramatic, particularly in stormy weather or in spring when the snows melt.

Be aware that at certain times of year there can be flash floods with no warning so take note of any weather warnings for heavy rain in the mountain regions, the water will come down the rivers and turn them into raging torrents that can pick everything up along the way, including rocks and trees, and wash it out to sea. Definitely do not park up at the side of a river!

Wildlife

The lowland waters of the west coast are a bird watchers heaven and visits can include sightings of the rare White Heron (kotuku), Southern Crested Grebe (kamana), and Okarito Brown Kiwi.

Oh and when you are in the area of the glaciers don’t forget to watch out for the cheeky Kea parrot. Three of them ate the seat of our motorbike in the middle of the night!

West Coast - Westland National ParkWest Coast - Westland National Park

Accommodation

To visit the glaciers it’s a good idea to base your stay in one of the two villages at the base of their respective glacier, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, from where you can explore one or both glaciers. I think Fox Glacier is a bit quieter than Franz Josef but both have a holiday park, budget accommodation, cabins, ranging up to more expensive or luxury accommodation.

The map below shows you the location of both villages and you’ll see they are not far from each other for using as a base to explore. This area depends on income from tourism so it is good if you can support the local businesses by staying overnight before continuing with your journey.

Information

The Westland Tai Poutini National Park visitor centre is at Franz Joseph (southern end of the village) where you can pick up lots of information about activities in the park, make bookings, find accommodation, and get information about safety.

Westland Tai Poutini National Park Location

Shares a border with Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

New Zealand National Parks - List and locations.

Walks

Birds and Animals

Outdoor Safety Code