Accessibility New Zealand South Island

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier: two days, two glaciers, one wheelchair

18 June 2017

Last December, while it was Winter in Europe it was the beginning of the Summer here in New Zealand. While most of the French people were eating a raclette or a tartiflette waiting for Christmas we were wearing hats and sun-glasses in our way to a barbecue! But without snow and cold we were not really feeling the Christmas atmosphere… Until we left Wellington for a road-trip and discovered Franz Josef Glacier and Fox glacier!

During these two weeks of road-trip we saw a lot of natural wonders, made many discoveries and also faced some challenges! Doing the glaciers walks was one of them! Without Franck and our friend Dimitri it would have been impossible. Thank you so much gentlemen for your help and patience! I am really glad to have be able to share those moments with them. Now I sharing them with you!

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef glacier walks start in a parking, 5km from Franz Josef village. There 12 walks of different levels and durations. You can find all the information about them on the D.O.C website. As for us we chose to do the most popular one: “Franz Josef Glacier / Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere Walk“.

This hike is 5.4 kilometres return and takes about one hour and a half. The first fifteen minutes are quite easy except for one very steep slope. The pathway goes trough woods before reaching the glacier river bed.

The river in the moraines.

The river in the moraines.

As soon as we start to walk along the river it becomes more difficult because the path is going through the moraines. It is an area made of rocks which has been transported here by the glacier because of the melting of the ice caps. Franck had to help me to cross this area rolling on the back wheels. Indeed the small wheels at the front get stuck in rocks very often. I even had to get out of my wheelchair as the path cross the river. Dimitri helped me to cross it by walking while Franck was carrying my wheelchair.

Impracticable ? We don't mind! Let's go!

Impracticable ? We don’t mind! Let’s go!

Landscapes around us is so impressive! Mountains tower on each sides of the moraines and a cloudy veil lightly hide the summits. On the ground rocks are covered by a beautiful  greenish and yellowish moss.

The valley going to the glacier.

The valley going to the glacier.

It is here, in the middle of this amazing and almost mystic landscape that the walk ends for me. To reach the last lookout there is a very long, steep and rocky slope to climb. At this point Franck and I were already tired, especially Franck. Pushing me on the back wheels during all this time requires a lot of efforts. So the guys finished the hike just the two of them. I took the opportunity while waiting to admire the glacier, the mountains and the many waterfalls around me. At that moment I realised what we were accomplishing together and how lucky I am to be here in New Zealand a few metres away from a glacier.

Some waterfalls at the beginning of the moraines.

Some waterfalls at the beginning of the moraines.

After we walk our way back to the start we really deserve a lunch break. It was raining during all the walk: we were soaked and exhausted. The weather was not getting better so we decided to go to our accommodation and rest instead of going for the “Peter Pool Walk” even if it supposed to be a wheelchair accessible walk.

Fox Glacier

The next day here we go again: exploring a glacier but this time this is Fox glacier! We start the day by driving to the view point on the “Glacier View Road”.

Really good view from this lookout.

Really good view from this lookout.

Fox glacier hikes start at the parkings located at the end of the “Glacier View Road” and “Fox Glacier Access Road”. We parked our car at “Glacier View Road” parking and started the “River Walk” joining the other carpark. It is an enjoyable 900 metres walk. It is a good opportunity to discover New-Zealand bushes but unfortunately it is quite difficult in a wheelchair as the path goes through the moraines at some points.

The "River walk" beginning.

The “River walk” beginning.

The walk ends by crossing a suspension bridge which is more easily accessible from the other way. So I think the best solution for a disabled person is to begin the walk at the “Fox Glacier Access Road” parking, walk until the suspension bridge and go back as the suspension bridge is clearly the best part of the walk.

You wouldn't think but the bridges balances a bit.

You wouldn’t think but the bridges balances a bit.

After this short walk now it’s time to go for the real one: the “Fox Glacier Valley Walk“. Today it is not raining and the walk is shorter than the one we have done yesterday (only 2.6 kilometres return) so we are confident. After all we found this walk more difficult than the others glaciers walks that we have done. There are a lot of slopes and we have to cross a river again. Maybe it also because we are still tired from the day before.

With Dimitri helping me in Fox glacier moraines.

With Dimitri helping me in Fox glacier moraines.

That was hard but it really worth it. Landscapes around us seem to be even more spectacular than the ones we saw at Franz Josef glacier. We are so small in the middle of this setting! Like in Franz Josef glacier I didn’t walk until the end and stopped before the very last steep slope. Franck stayed with me while Dimitri walked to the end.



The walks we have done on the two glaciers are quite difficult and especially physical for the person pushing the wheelchair on the back wheels. That’s why I would advice wheelchair users who really want to do one of these walks to do only one. If you are doing the walks no worries: views from the parking lookout are already awesome.

As for me despite the difficulties we had to face I still remember those two days as two happy memorable days. Getting so close to the glacier was great, but that wasn’t the best part. What made me feel so glad was to share these moments with Dimitri and Franck and to discover myself a bit more through this new adventure.


You want to travel all around New Zealand? Find many ideas of awesome destinations in north island and south island in my other articles as well as wheelchair accessibility tips.

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