The Douglas Walk is a wide, well graded path that leads you over glacial landforms that are over three and a half thousand years old.
Charlie Douglas was a well educated explorer and surveyor of Scottish descent who spent much of his life adventuring in the Glacier Country and South Westland. His surveying achievements are well documented. He has a mountain, glacier, rock bivouac, river, creek and hut named for him.
The Douglas Walk starts at the Franz Josef Glacier Valley car park and takes one hour return. You will see Peter’s Pool and the Douglas Bridge before heading back up the Franz Josef Glacier Access Road. If you do not have a vehicle, you can also get a shuttle or cycle to the car park.
From the Franz Josef Glacier car park take the path which is near the public toilets. You will head down a gentle slope to Peter's Pool which was named after Peter Westland, a nine-year old boy who camped here with his mother Muriel Westland in 1894.
The pool is a fingerprint left by the retreating glacier dropping a chunk of melted ice that formed into a kettle lake around 1800 AD. On a calm day you can view picture perfect reflections of Franz Josef Glacier, and the Fritz Range, including Mt Moltke and Mt Roon.
A prefabricated hut once stood near the pool and was originally used by the surveyor-explorers A.P. Harper and Charlie Douglas. It was made from corrugated iron bolted to a frame of angle iron with a stone fire-place and tin chimney. The hut was also used by thousands of people on their glacier expeditions. The Graham brothers and their guides used it as a lunch hut where their clients could enjoy a cup of black billy tea.
Further on through shrubs and mountain flax is a view of the upper valley. From here the trail climbs an ancient glacial moraine, past stands of young rata and kamahi trees. The path then continues on past the Douglas Bridge.
The original Douglas Bridge was a one hundred and forty-four meter long steel cable suspension bridge built by Peter Hende. It had a timber frame and hardwood towers at both ends. Today’s bridge was constructed in 1936 and then restored to the original plans in 1994. It provides access to the Roberts Point Track.
The Douglas Walk continues down the Franz Josef Glacier Valley crossing some older moraines. You descend to the bridge across Dolly Creek on the way back to the Glacier Valley access road. From here, you can walk back up the road to the main car park or walk down towards the Franz Josef Glacier Village.
Charlie Douglas worked under the direction of Geo J. Roberts , the Chief Surveyor and Crown Lands Commissioner for the Westland District. Geo Roberts was based in Hokitika from the 1870s and helped establish trig points for triangulation throughout the region. He also worked with other famous surveyors such as Gerhard Mueller and A. P. Harper. His map making and report writing skills were excellent. His simple sketches of the countryside were drawn to an exact scale.
When in the bush Charlie lived under a stark canvas batwing tent, often only in the company of his dog. He wrote detailed letters of his adventures. These show his philosophical and sometimes whimsical sense of humour. He was especially interested in the West Coast's flora and fauna and wrote amusing descriptions of kea, kaka and weka and the wild West Coast forests. His acerbic wit also provided some intriguing insights into the locals at Okarito and Haast.
In later life, arthritis curtailed his wilderness adventures. Charlie spent the rest of his years in Hokitika working on maps for the Hokitka surveying office until 1916 when he died of a stroke. Charlie’s letters and reports been compiled into a highly readable book “Mr Explorer Douglas” by James Pascoe. The latest version includes updates edited by Graham Langton in 2000 which can be purchased from the Take Note Book Shop in the Franz Josef Glacier Village.