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In 2005 the Department of Conservation (DOC) General Policy for National Parks was amended to allow for mountain bikes on designated tracks. The wheels of bureaucracy turned quickly on the West Coast and the Franz Josef Glacier valley now has New Zealand’s first purpose built dual use cycle and walkway in a National Park. It will be officially named Te Ara a Waiau, which translates to‘The Path of Waiau,’ and is within the boundaries of the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

The Franz Josef Glacier (Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere) access road was widened and tar sealed in 2009. Before this, in the summer when campervans and tour buses seemed to take over the road walking or cycling to the Glacier car park was a dusty and sometimes scary experience. 

Tom Hopkins from the DOC West Coast Conservancy Office worked with the Franz Josef Waiau Visitor Assets team to scope out and design the cycle/walkway. The construction contract was awarded to Westroads Hokitika, and local contractors Ian Hartshorne of Franz Hire, and Shane Burmester were also involved.

The Te Ara a Waiau begins at the northern end of Franz Josef Glacier village on State Highway Six. After crossing the Waiho River Bailey Bridge the first two kilometres follows alongside the newly widened Glacier Valley Access road. The specially designed track then heads into the podocarp rain forest and continues for a further two kilometres.

The project specifications dictated that Te Ara a Waiau was to follow the path of least resistance, and wherever possible established trees were to remain untouched. The stunning result is a cycle and walkway with graceful curves, that leads you over glacial moraines and through the rainforest to the Franz Josef Glacier car park.

If you are cycle touring this short trip will be the piece de resistance after conquering Mt Hercules in the north or the Cook Hills to the south of Franz Josef Glacier Village. For those who arrived in Glacier Country by another mode of transport you can hire a mountain bike from the team at Across Country Quad Bikes and enjoy your own ‘Tour de Glacier Country’.