The Alex Knob Track is a superb way to spend a day in Franz Joseph on the west cost of New Zealand. You know, where all the glaciers and that are (or were, depending on your time of reading). The track starts approximately 4km South of the township (on the road to the glacier), DOC have an estimated time for a return trip of 6 to 8 hours. We did it in 6hrs, including lunch and brunch breaks. The track itself is very straightforward in good weather conditions, 8.5 km of climbing to reach the summit at 1,303 meters and then back the same way.
There are some fallen trees and largish steps to navigate en route. We had a perfect day for hiking but I can imagine things get much more challenging in adverse weather conditions. The track itself zig zags its way uphill through lush forest which only allows occasional glimpses of the scenery beyond. It’s not until you reach Rata Lookout where you get your first glacial views. It then continues in much the same way up past Christmas Lookout until you finally clear the bush line, and then the views just exploded all over the place, views out over the Tasman sea, views South down towards Fiordland and North up the West Coast.
The path continues up through the alpine tussocks and then it finally reaches the summit of Alex Knob and the views over the glacier are simply breathtaking. For us it was a great way to experience the glacier and surrounding area.
The only down side to the walk is the volume of tourist helicopters shuttling people back and forth, but that’s OK because we read on a sign located at the start of the track stating that it’s the only way to get people on to the glacier because it’s receded so much. Now I’m not a genius but I wouldn’t have though that constantly flying tourists up and down the glacier is helping the dwindling ice flow, but there you go.
Apart from that little rant, it’s a bloody great walk, an excellent way to see a glacier if you’re slightly concerned. about the environment and don’t have the necessary skills or equipment to walk yourself up it. Oh and it’s called Alex Knob so its worth doing just for the name!