Westland Tai Poutini National Park: The Complete Guide

mountains shrouded in clouds with glacier in foreground

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Westland Tai Poutini National Park

West Coast, New Zealand
Phone +64 3 752 0360

New Zealand's Westland Tai Poutini National Park is one of several national parks covering the mountains and the West Coast of the South Island. Bordering Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Westland Tai Poutini spans from the high mountains to the coast. It's in one of the most remote parts of New Zealand where very few people live, but nevertheless, it's a popular spot with tourists so the accommodation options and other facilities belie the size of the permanent population of this area.

It's one of New Zealand's older national parks, founded in 1960 to commemorate the centenary of Westland's colonization. The most popular attractions are, undoubtedly, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier, two large glaciers that are at an unusually low altitude. There are other hiking, biking, kayaking, and hunting opportunities within the park for active and adventurous travelers. Read on to find out more.

Things to Do

The views of mountains, forests, and rugged coastal landscapes are the biggest drawcard of Westland Tai Poutini, and many travelers take road trips up or down the coast to enjoy these. People can take day trips to the famous glaciers while travelers with a bit more time can venture further into the park on hiking, hunting, biking, or kayaking trips.

  • Kayaking: Paddle the Ōkārito Lagoon Kayak Trail, a large wetland system from which you can admire the mountain views and diverse birdlife. The two kayaking route options take between one and three hours to paddle and are self-guided by following floating markers and using a map from the visitor centers or certain tour companies. If you don't have your own kayak you can rent them in the park.
  • Mountain biking: The mountain biking trails in Westland Tai Poutini are ideal for beginners or families because they're graded "easy." The Fox Glacier South Side Cycleway and Te Ara a Waiau Cycleway are both easy one-hour trails, and the Te Weheka Cycleway is even shorter at just 40 minutes.
  • Climbing: Like in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, mountain climbing in Westland Tai Poutini is only suitable for experienced climbers who really know what they're doing and have all the right gear. Huts within the park cater to climbers and private tours and supported expeditions may be available from specialist providers.
  • Hunting: Hunting is a niche but popular activity among many rural New Zealanders. If you'd like to join in the action there are opportunities to hunt tahr, chamois, goats, and deer. Some hunting blocks are open year-round while others are seasonal. Some are easily accessible from the highway while others require helicopter access, adding to the adventure.
People hiking through Franz Josef Glacier

TripSavvy / Angelina Pilarinos

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are the major drawcards of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park. There are thousands of glaciers deep within New Zealand's mountains but none are as accessible as these two, which are close to the coast and terminate at low altitudes. Fox Glacier is the third-largest glacier in New Zealand, and Franz Josef Glacier the fourth largest.

The two glaciers are quite close together; it only takes about half an hour to drive between them. Franz Josef is a bit more popular because the village nearby (simply named Franz Josef) has more accommodation and dining options, and there are also natural hot springs to enjoy.

Whichever glacier you choose to visit, there are a number of activities you can do. If you're on a tight budget you can walk to the feet of the glaciers from the parking lots (Franz Josef Glacier is about 45 minutes' walk from the parking lot while Fox is about 30 minutes' walk). You can also take guided walks onto the glaciers and learn more about them from a knowledgeable guide. If you have a more generous budget you can take scenic helicopter flights, some of which land high up on the glaciers and provide incredible views that you couldn't get any other way.

Read more about visiting the Franz Josef Glacier in this article: The Complete Guide to Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

snow-capped mountain reflected in a small lake surrounded by grass

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Best Hikes and Trails

There are many short hikes and easy walks around the national park that take as little as 20 minutes, including the Canavans Knob Walk, the Douglas Walk, and the Lake Matheson/ Te Ara Kairaumati Walk. Here's some further information about longer walks of a day or more:

  • Copland Track: The 11-mile, seven-hour (one way) Copland Track is a popular trail that takes hikers through forest, river, and mountain landscapes. Many hikers stay the night at the hut at Welcome Flat (bookings required) where there are natural hot pools. It's an intermediate trail that's best suited to experienced backcountry hikers.
  • Upper Copland Valley Track: Beyond the Welcome Flat, the Copland track continues for a couple more days if you're seeking more of an adventure. The track was built between 1901 and 1913 and offers great views. The trail gets more challenging after the hut, so it's best for experienced hikers with strong survival skills only.
  • Alex Knob Track: This advanced hike requires a four-hour climb to the top of Alex Knob, where trekkers will be rewarded with stunning views of Franz Josef Glacier. It's suitable for advanced hikers only and it takes about eight hours to complete the 10.5-mile in-and-out hike.
  • Roberts Point Track: This 7-mile hike takes about five-and-a-half hours to complete and is categorized as advanced level. It winds up beside the Franz Josef Glacier and offers glacier and valley views. Be warned: there's a lot of uphill walking.

Where to Camp

Camping within the national park boundaries is only permitted at campsites or tramping huts run by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There's only one DOC campsite, Otto/MacDonalds Campsite, and it can be reached by road. Alternatively, you can camp outside the national park boundaries at settlements such as Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, Haast, and at other points on or just off State Highway 6.

There are also a number of tramping huts ranging from standard to serviced and located in areas along hiking routes. Some of these (the serviced huts) should be booked in advance during high season. You can find out more about the huts on the DOC website.

Where to Stay Nearby

Accommodation isn't offered within the national park itself, beyond the campsite and tramping huts. Most travelers stay at motels, hotels, and lodges on the edge of the park, in settlements like Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, and Haast. These are not large urban hubs, but they do offer a range of accommodations to suit most budgets and preferences.

How to Get There

Most travelers reach the Westland Tai Poutini National Park by driving (or taking a long-distance bus) from the north or the south. There's just one highway that runs near the park, State Highway 6. Travelers coming from the north can either drive all the way from Nelson at the top of the South Island, or take the inland route from Christchurch and North Canterbury, across the Lewis Pass. All travelers from the north will pass through Greymouth and Hokitika. Travelers driving from the south will normally come from Queenstown and/or Wanaka. Either way, a lot of driving is required, but they're incredibly scenic trips.

If you're short on time and would prefer to fly, the nearest airport to the park is at Hokitika, 83 miles to the north. From there you would need to drive or hop on a bus. Hokitika Airport is not large but there are direct flights from Christchurch and Nelson, which themselves are well connected to other New Zealand cities.

Accessibility in Tai Poutini

In the broadest sense, Tai Poutini National Park is one of New Zealand's more inaccessible national parks because of its location in a remote part of the country with few ways in or out. Road access is periodically cut off, or limited from one direction, because of flooding.

Aside from this, Westland Tai Poutini could be considered one of the more accessible parks from the perspective of travelers with mobility issues because many of its highlights can be seen on day trips from comfortable accommodation. There's no need to hike deep into the park to see anything (unless you're willing and able). Short walks, biking and kayaking trips are accessible to families who aren't up for long trips, and many travelers with mobility limitations can see the impressive glaciers quite easily. A standout short walk is the 20-minute Minnehaha Walk, which is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers.

Tips for Your Visit

  • If you're road-tripping along the West Coast to the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, be aware of local weather and road conditions. SH6 is the only highway along the coast and it is vulnerable to weather events, especially flooding.
  • The climate is cool in this part of New Zealand. While summer days can be warm, make sure you have warm gear for the night. Always be prepared for changeable weather when hiking in the mountains. Be aware that the West Coast is also one of the wettest parts of New Zealand and be prepared with wet-weather clothing.
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Westland Tai Poutini National Park: The Complete Guide