Just outside the township of Frans Josef lies the Franz Josef glacier and the terminal face walking trail. Walking to the terminal face gives you some sobering perspective of the recession of this glacier over the past 30 years. However, If you are looking for a challenging hike that still provides a view of the glacier Alex Knob will surely not let you down.
Situated close to the entry of the national park, the trailhead to Alex Knob has only limited parking. This 16km (round trip) hike is without a doubt the toughest hike in the area, from those that I embarked on. The trailhead itself leads you down the roadside for less than a kilometre before the accent starts, zigzagging back and fourth in a fashion that is relentless. The natural environment around is vibrant green with moss and shrubbery with the distinctive brown clay of the trail carving shapes through it.
Once you start to gain some altitude, and you will do so surprisingly fast, there are many clearings and lookouts to provide you with a view of the valley below. The first clearing gives you a peep back over the town and look away from the glacial valley at the expanse of the plateau that leads out to the ocean. Continuing up, weaving through hollowed trees and almost scrambling in sections, the other lookouts give you an impressive perspective of the glacier. From this point it becomes much clearer just how far up into the mountain range the hike reaches.
These lookouts provide a little respite if you need a breather, but they also give you many opportunities to view this perspective of the glacial face. Weather permitting, you will have a clear day and reap the benefits. Personally I wasn’t so fortunate. Low cloud shrouded over the top platform at Alex Knob making the look outs near the top the better of the views. I would recommend taking every opportunity to take in the view. Enjoy the fruits of your uphill labor. Whatever you do, don’t turn back. Cloudy or not, making the top is an achievement (especially if you start late in the day).
As the trail isn’t a loop, remember, whatever you climb up you must scamper back down as well. DOC’s (Department of conservation) suggest a 8-10 hour return trip. It is well known that if your a fitter character that you can do such hikes in less time, just be warned that this will still take a lot out of you. Challenge yourself and put this on the list of worthwhile hikes in the glacial region of South Island, New Zealand.