Castle Rocks Route
Franz Josef Glacier terminal face unstable
All parties planning a trip using the Franz Josef Glacier terminal face for access or egress are advised that it is unsafe and potentially not possible. Guiding operations have stopped accessing the glacier via the terminal face as it has been determined to be unsafe, therefore access to and from Castle Rocks Hut via the terminal face may not be possible in current conditions.
1 – 2 days
Glacier car park to Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere terminal face - 45 min
Follow the Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere walking track from the car park to the terminal face ropes. This track is well-marked and easy to follow with over 400,000 visitors per year visiting the glacier valley.
The ropes at the terminal face are in place to keep inexperienced visitors in a safe location, so please do not encourage or lead people who are not in your group over these ropes.
Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere terminal face to Cape Defiance – 2 hr
There is no marked route on the glacier and conditions are constantly changing. However as a general guide, once you are up the terminal face head towards the centre of the glacier and make your way through the Defiance Icefall. When clear of the crevasses, head towards the true left aiming for the big rock below Unser Fritz Falls, but avoid heading true left too early. Experience and skills in glacier travel are essential, as is the correct equipment.
The information regarding travelling on the glacier is a rough guide only. Glacier conditions change daily and at times the route through the Defiance Icefall is impassable – you must be experienced in glacier travel to attempt this trip, and have the skills and equipment necessary for keeping yourself and your group safe.
Route to Castle Rocks Hut
Cape Defiance to Castle Rocks Hut – 1.5-2 hr
The route to Castle Rocks Hut starts off the ice on the true left of the first creek after Cape Defiance. Fill your water bottles here as the route is steep and collects the full force of the midday sun. Getting off, and back on, the ice at this point can cause difficulties dependant on whether the glacier is advancing or retreating. After stepping off the glacier, 1.5 - 2 hr should be allowed to reach the hut.
The route is steep and rocky, and care must be taken not to dislodge rocks onto party members below. Follow the true left bank up, aiming to go between a very large [building sized] rock and the creek. The rock is quite obvious from the glacier and sits opposite a large slip-scarred face on the true right of the creek. Once past the rock, a creek bed [usually dry] enters the main creek from the true left. Zig-zagging up this creek bed is the easiest route to the hut, although you can head directly up the true left edge of the creek.
While the route is mostly unmarked there are occasional cairns that you should watch out for. Upon reaching the hut you will be rewarded with fine views and, in the warmer months, the beauty of flowering alpine plants. Kea are regular visitors to the hut and surrounding areas.
Castle Rocks, the surrounding peaks and ridge lines including Mount Moltke, Tower Saddle and Lemmer Peak can be accessed from the slopes above the hut and all provide stunning views. Return to the car park the way you came..
Access is from the Franz Josef Glacier car park, five kilometres off State Highway 6.
Places to stay
Castle Rocks Hut
Castle Rocks Hut, built in 1974, sits above the lower Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, on the true left of the valley and affords magnificent views of the lower glacier and the high mountain peaks above the glacier.
The hut is not easy to reach, as it requires a high level of skill and experience in glacier travel and there is no marked route on the ice.
Travelling to Castle Rocks Hut requires traversing the lower section of the Franz Josef Glacier Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. Ensure that you have the correct equipment and experience to safely undertake this trip.
The maintenance of Castle Rocks Hut is proudly supported by Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
Plan and prepare
Dogs are prohibited except where authorisation has been granted by DOC. People wishing to take a dog into this area must obtain a dog permit from the Franz Josef Waiau Area Manager at least one week prior to their trip.
This route is suitable for people who are well-equipped, with high level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and glacier travel.
Summer and autumn.
Topo50: BX15 Fox Glacier
Flooded rivers, rock fall, crevasses and avalanche.
Safety is your responsibility
- Check the latest conditions at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre in Franz Josef before heading into this area – conditions can change rapidly.
- Carry a personal locator beacon
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.
- True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.
- Times given are guides only and will vary greatly with fitness and weather conditions.
- The walking track to the glacier may be closed due to flooding, ice fall or rock fall and you should check the latest conditions at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre before heading into the valley.
- The route from the terminal face to the hut is difficult, and ice-axes and crampons (as a minimum) are essential for travel on the ice.
- You should allow plenty of time to reach your planned destination.
Castle Rocks route guide (PDF, 639K)
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