Roberts Point Track
The Roberts Point Track in Franz Josef is a great day walk above the Waiho River valley to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Franz Josef glacier. Start from the Alex Knob/Lake Wombat car park for a slightly shorter walk (11 km return) or from the main glacier car park for the longer option (12.3 km return) to take in Peters Pool, which I highly recommend. The track was the first to be built up the Waiho valley and was named after George J Roberts who was the Chief Surveyor and Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Westland District.
DOC classifies the Roberts Point Track as Advanced. It was initially so beautifully graded I spent the first ten minutes wondering why but as time went on it became apparent with numerous side stream crossings, a bit of scrambling, some extremely slippery glacier-scoured rocks, tree roots slick with moss and plenty of mud up towards the glacier lookout. I walked on a bluebird day in mid-winter just after a long period of rain, so the side streams were up. Before you go, make sure you are well prepared.
Roberts Point Track Times
DOC time: 11 km – 5 hr return from the Alex Knob/Lake Wombat car park.
DOC time: 12.3 km – 5 hr 20 min return from the glacier car park via Peters Pool.
My Time: 4 hr 50 mins return from the glacier car park including 30 mins lunch at the glacier lookout.
Hokitika to Franz Josef
My morning started without the usual bakery goodies. I’d moved to Hokitika the week before and hadn’t sussed a bakery yet – I’ll do better next time. The drive to Franz Josef down the SH6 took a couple of hours and was spectacular but treacherous on a cold frosty morning.
At 8.15 am I pulled in for a look at Lake Ianthe, as I remembered it being lovely the last time I was on the coast. It was equally as lovely this time with a mist gently lifting from the still water. Just as I arrived, a young van-camping Aussie couple wandered over to the cold beach. He to enjoy a cold swim and she to watch and take photos. I was impressed at how well he handled the swim, walking in and fully submerging without a peep. Entertainment over, I used the wonderful new DOC facilities and set off again for Franz Josef.
I arrived at Franz Josef at about 9.15 am and took the usual photo of the mountains I take every time I arrive from the north. Today for the first time, I called in at the large, modern DOC visitor centre. I didn’t have time to look around, but will definitely be back to spend some time there. I asked the staff about the state of the Roberts Point track – which was all good.
I parked at the main Franz Josef Glacier car park. From town, head south over the bridge then immediately turn left and head up the true left of the Waiho. The road was in great condition but the cliffs to the right had crumbled even more since I walked the Alex Knob Track over a year ago.
Peters Pool Walk
It was freezing when I got out of the car at the glacier par park. I used the facilities and got going at 9.40 am. Peters Pool is just a short walk away from the main car park and the track is wide, beautifully groomed and suitable for families. I had it all to myself. I was immediately struck by the sound of the Waiho River booming in the distance.
After five minutes I arrived at Peters Pool, a ‘kettle lake’ formed by a chunk of ice remaining in the moraine debris when the glacier retreated. When the blob of ice eventually melted it left a depression in the landscape, forming the lake. Today was a perfect day to visit with a clear blue sky and the snow-capped Southern Alps reflected in the pool. There were some nice information boards and a couple of benches to admire the view.
The track from Peters Pool continued over a small rise and down to a wooden bridge crossing the Waiho. A track upgrade sign told me that recent work on the track was completed by staff from local businesses who were affected by the drop in tourism during Covid. They did an awesome job!
Roberts Point Track
I crossed Douglas Bridge at 10 am pausing mid-way to check out the grey, frothy water roaring below. It was quite something. A quick warning – never try to cross to Waiho River other than over the bridge, and do not leave the track. A couple got swept to their deaths having walked the Roberts Point Track some years ago, and people have become lost and hypothermic having wandered off the track.
Heading into the bush, I didn’t notice any markers early on but it would be almost impossible to get lost this early into the walk. Five minutes later along the true right of the Waiho, I crossed Hugh Creek, the first side stream. I stopped to put my long gaiters on and only just managed to cross without getting wet feet. Wearing my leather boots and gaiters on this trip, I initially felt a tad overdressed but I kept my feet dry for the full trip. Almost everyone else I met was wearing trainers and suffering wet feet.
After a nicely graded start eventually, the track started to get a little more rocky and more like a tramping track. I reached a second bridge at about 10.20 am, where the drop-down to the beautiful gorge below challenged my fear of heights. There were great views across to the waterfalls tumbling down the rock face on the opposite bank of the Waiho River.
Roberts Point Swing Bridge
Ten minutes later after a climb down some railings, a giant rock wall dropped to the valley to the left and straight ahead the astonishingly long Roberts Point swing bridge stretched across Arch Creek. Surely a jewel in the crown of DOC assets, this is a seriously long swing bridge, at over 100m long! It was impossible not to look down and I took it very slowly.
Across the bridge, I enjoyed the track and scrambled up tree roots and rocks. Both were extremely slippery. I heard the first helicopter buzzing overhead on the first glacier flight of the day and enjoyed the first open viewpoint across the Waiho.
I reached Hende’s Hut at around 11 am. It’s not suitable for overnighting but makes a good day shelter. It was built by Peter Hende and used as a smithy while he built Hende’s Gallery in 1907. Read more about the historic huts and structures in the area on the DOC website.
To experience Hende’s Gallery is another very good reason to walk the Roberts Point Track. This wooden staircase built onto the side of a rock wall over a massive drop, was restored by DOC in 1996. As I walked down it I was glad I didn’t meet anyone coming the other way!
Not long after the staircase were another couple of side streams. The second was fairly dubious, a wrong move could have you slipping down a rock hydro slide to the right. You wouldn’t want to lose your footing.
At around 11.10 am the track led out of the trees and up onto a section of smooth, exposed rock scoured by the glacier. There were excellent views back to Sentinel Rock downstream. Following the orange markers left and up, I took it carefully up the slippery rocks. The sun hadn’t reached them yet and although they weren’t quite frozen, they were as slippery as ice. At the top of the rocks a nice lad caught up to me – a Franz Josef Glacier guide on his day off. We had a chat and he continued ahead.
Rope Creek Bridge
After the rocky section, I crossed the bridge over the deep and narrow Rope Creek gorge below. Pretty impressive if it doesn’t make you dizzy to look down.
The track continued to climb over more slippery rock and I followed the markers back into the trees. Be sure to keep an eye out for the orange markers here, they aren’t always obvious. The next part was quite slow going. A climb up to the viewpoint with boggy puddles in between the slippery mossy rocks and tree roots. If you’re wearing trainers and doing a winter trip, you’ll get wet feet here too.
At 11.50 there was a final creek crossing with a cool little waterfall and ten minutes later I reached the glacier viewpoint.
Roberts Point Glacier Viewpoint
I reached the viewpoint at around midday. It had taken two hours and ten minutes in very slippery conditions. It was sunny and calm up on the viewing platform but I cooled down quickly and donned my warm gear. There were several other people sitting with their lunch taking in the incredible views, including the glacier guide I met earlier who answered our many questions and gave us some great information about the glacier.
We were lucky enough to get the full stunning views all the way to the top of the glacier and back down the valley. The cloud hadn’t come in yet, although it was gathering. I got the scope out for a closer look at the glacier. It was impossible to gauge the size of the towering rock stacks as the glacier split at the top. I endeavoured to take a flight up there one day.
I left the viewpoint at 12.40 pm taking it carefully, but slightly more confidently now I’d become used to the slippery terrain.
I was back at Rope Creek at 1.20 pm, Hendes Gallery ten minutes later, Hendes hut at 1.30 pm, the massive swing bridge at 1.50 pm and crossing the Waiho at around 2.15 pm. The cloud had come in by the time I got back, and there wouldn’t have been much of a glacier view. I’d definitely advise trying to get up there earlier rather than later in the day.
A breeze caught Peter’s Pool in the afternoon, the reflections shimmering in the dark water. I was back at the car park at 2.30 pm, with the round trip taking four hours and fifty minutes.
Given they were only a short distance away I couldn’t leave without taking a look up the valley from the Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk (1.7 km 15 mins) and from Sentinel Rock (900m, 10 mins).
When I was looking back over my photos to write this post, I remembered I’d visited Franz Josef when I first came to NZ in 2006. On that occasion, we walked to Sentinel Rock and I had taken an almost identical photo from the same spot. I was astonished to see how much the glacier had retreated in 16.5 years.
Whatever you decide to do at Franz Josef you won’t be disappointed. If you’re fit, have decent footwear, are well-prepared for a decent tramp and have plenty of time on your hands I would definitely recommend the Roberts Point Track. Check out the Alex Knob track (below) if you have all those things and also don’t mind a 1000m climb. If conditions are iffy and/or you want something more sedate, check out the shorter walks on DOC website.
Click the links below for some of my other walks on the West Coast: