The West Coast

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2010

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Where I stayed
A new campervan park by the Indian Restaurant!

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Luckily, the rain had long gone to leave yet another sunny day. From Wanaka to the West Coast, we had to drive through across the Haast Pass. This part of the drive is beautiful, with numerous potential stops for blue lakes, waterfalls and rivers. We stopped at those that Tourism Radio advised us to, although that meant that with all these stops (and some very windy roads!) it was a fair while before we made it to the West Coast...

After crossing the Pass, we stopped at the first lookout, Knights Point, to cook up some bacon sarnies for our lunch, which we ate while enjoying the views of the ocean and magnificent blue skies. Back in Polly, we continued on until the village of Fox Glacier, where we picked up a map and headed to walk to the terminus of the glacier itself. Being a relatively clear day, we were able to see a lot of the ice and get close up to the end point. It is actually quite a dirty white glacier, not quite like the Perito Moreno in Argentina, but still impressive to be so near it.

Our next stop was the nearby Lake Matheson, famous for its views of Mt Cook the other surrounding mountains, which can be seen reflecting in the lake on a very clear day. Sadly, although it was nice & sunny, a layer of cloud had developed covering the two peaks (typical!). Also, there was a slight breeze, and therefore no reflection! Ach well, we still did the hours walk around the lake and thought the views we saw were beautiful, so mustn't grumble.

Keen to stop for the day we continued on another 26 km on the windiest road so far to get to the Franz Josef village and glacier. We wanted to book for the half day walk on the glacier for early morning, but unfortunately found that all were booked until midday... when the rain was due. Having done a walk when I was last in NZ in 2006 in the pouring rain, I was not keen to repeat this experience - remembering how cold we were last time! Also it would mean that we were not back until 6pm, too late to get very far up the west coast as we had planned to afterwards. After much umming and ahhing, we were lucky enough to get a discount on booking a helicopter ride over the glacier for a 10am start, weather permitting. Phew, once this was sorted we cooked in Polly and collapsed to bed.

Brrr that was another cold night in Polly... We awoke to lots of dark clouds, but fortunately no rain, which meant it was a green light for the helicopter ride. Neither of us had been in a helicopter before, so we were both slightly terrored, however take off and flying were both incredibly smooth. The pilot took us up the glacier, getting very close to the surface so that we could see deep, blue crevasses... incredible! The overall view of the glacier from up above is much more impressive than just looking from a lookout at the terminus, even with the dark clouds as a background... it was a shame it was not a beautiful sunny day, but never mind, it was still a fantastic experience! We landed on the top of the glacier, and upon getting out realised that we were not prepared for just how cold it was up there. And how slippery... it was like standing on an ice rink! The pilot took photographs of us and the other couple, before one of their identity labels (stickers that the company asked us to wear on the tour...) blew off the guy and onto the front of the propeller of the helicopter! We watched in terror as the pilot went to retrieve it, while the propellers were still whizzing around at full speed! Ben and I then did silly poses; me my usual jump, and Ben doing press ups - forgetting he was putting his bare hands on ice, fool!!! Very amusing though! Then it was time for one more lap one the glacier in the copter, this time with Ben and I in the front seats, before we returned to land - and wasted no time in whizzing off in Polly, with a long drive North ahead of us.

We stopped in the town of Hokitika for our lunch break. The town is famous for its production of Jade, the main streets are covered in shops with Jade pendants and factories. I had planned to buy myself a pendant, but on looking at the price tags decided against it, hmm maybe next time... So up the coast we continued, our next stop being the Punakaki Rocks; rocks shaped like standing up pancakes which, when the sea is rough & in high tide, spouts water out of it’s blow holes, which makes very impressive viewing. Sadly not for us though, as the weather was a little too calm for once! Never mind, it was still impressive to see the rocks, and watching the sea bashing in the caverns.

Our original plan had been to stay somewhere on the West Coast, and continue north to Abel Tasman and my cousin’s house the next day. However, feeling on a roll we kept going, deciding it would be nice to have a relaxing Friday in Nelson and around the Abel Tasman area before descending on the relatives. The only obstacle that slowed us down was a huge truck carrying logs, which sped up at every straight bit of road - making overtaking a challenge (but not impossible!).
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