This walk takes around five hours return from the Franz Josef Glacier carpark. It climbs via a rocky track and multiple swing bridges to a high viewpoint above Franz Josef Glacier.
You will need a good level of fitness, a sturdy pair of shoes, appropriate clothing and carry your own food and water.
You can access the Roberts Point Track via the Douglas Walk from the Franz Josef Glacier car park. If you do not have a vehicle you can arrange to catch a shuttle or cycle to the Glacier Valley car park.
The track leaves the Douglas Bridge and winds through rata and kamahi forest, before climbing steeply to a moraine shelf high above the Franz Josef Glacier Valley. It crosses a number of glacier smoothed sections of schist which can become treacherously slippery in the rain and winter frosts.
The hut with its chimney, open doorway and no windows originally housed Peter, the track workers and a blacksmith forge. The white-hot forge formed the wrought iron standards that support Hende’s Gallery, the cliff-side structure which is just up the track. The Department of Conservation restored the Gallery in 1996 and it is a magnificent photo opportunity.
The alpine fault is a key feature of this track. As you climb you traverse a series of splinter fault lines in the upper valley. During the 1950s, the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier was between the Arch Creek and Rope Creek Bridges. The graduated vegetation trim lines can be seen from the valley floor. The last mark in the rimu forest is the height of the glacier in the 1750s. This was when when Captain Cook arrived in New Zealand.
At Roberts Point you will find an unexpected picnic table and a surprisingly intimate view of the lower levels of the Franz Josef Glacier. From here, you can watch the helicopters land for the Franz Josef Glacier Guides heli-hike. The guides in red jumpers and clients in blue jackets seem Lilliputian in comparison to the grand scale of the one kilometre high cliffs that flank the great river of ice.
Return the way you came back down the track. Do not attempt to reach the glacier as beyond the viewpoint there is a sheer cliff face and a death trap drop with no return. Once back at the Douglas Bridge, head back to the Glacier Valley car park via the Douglas Walk.
George J Roberts (1848-1910) was the Chief Surveyor and Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Westland District, and is the track's namesake. This was the first track built up the Franz Josef Glacier valley, and the hike is a historic tribute to early recreation and tourism in Glacier Country. Once the surveyors had finished, the renowned Graham brothers and their clients used this track to access the Franz Josef Glacier/K? Roimata o Hine Hukatere.
Roberts was well liked and extremely fit. By his retirement in 1909 he had an intimate knowledge of the West Coast, its valleys, rivers and mountain tops. A 1909 an article in the West Coast Times described him as an "indefatigable painstaking Officer of the Crown" who probably knew more "about the mineral and other resources of the West Coast" than anyone else at the time. The article also stated that the remuneration that he received was not equal to his services rendered or the loss of his physical health. Like Charlie Douglas, Mr Roberts' retirement occurred, "not by failure to do his duty, but failed health due to his excessive dedication to his work."
Peter Hende was a local blacksmith who grew up in Hari Hari. He supervised the building of the track and a small corrugated iron hut in 1906. The hut with its chimney, open doorway and no windows originally housed Peter, the track workers and a blacksmith forge. The white-hot forge formed the supports for Hendes Gallery, the cliff-side structure which is just up the track. The structure, which was built in 1907, hangs off wrought iron bars driven into sheer rock walls, and was restored by the Department of Conservation in 1996.
The original Douglas bridge was a one hundred and forty-four-metre 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.