The West Coast

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, June 20, 2008

It was our original intention to do a heli-hike to the top of either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier, two glaciers just a few miles apart from each other. Heli-Hiking is where you fly up to the top, land, and with the aid of crampons etc., you hike around the glacier for three or four hours seeking out the blue ice caves, which, if the brochures are to believed, are truly spectacular.

However, when we arrived in town to book this, the weather was awful and few helicopters were flying, plus it seemed extraordinarily expensive. After some consideration (and having had an initial look at the glacier anyway) we decided to leave our glacier hiking until South America where the glaciers in the Andes are even more spectacular (and a lot cheaper to visit!).

Fortunately, one of the first stops on our trip along the West Coast was at Fox Glacier. Spotting a sign to the terminal face, we jump out to explore. We walk a hour or so to the edge of the glacier (which we now realise is what a terminal face is!).

Along our walk up to the face of the glacier, the DOC had placed signs indicating the position of the face of the glacier over the last century or so. It was truly frightening to see how much the glacier had shrunk back over the last few years. A very graphic and real indication of the effects of global warning.

Eventually we reached the actual face of the glacier and, to be frank, it was a bit of a disappointment. Although large, it was nowhere near as big as we had expected and rather than a blue/white in colour, up close it was dirty grey colour, a result of all of the rock collected as it crept its way down the valley. We could see the impacted layer upon layer of ice accumulated over many years.

Nevertheless it was pretty awesome to actually see a glacier up close and we were pretty impressed by the fact that this is one of only a very small number of glaciers that has existed since the Ice Age.

The drive along the West Coast is peppered with places to stop and explore. One of these was Lake Matheson, which is not far from the glaciers and is famed for its clear reflections of some of New Zealands highest peaks (Mt Cook and Mt Tasman). It was a lovely walk around the lake although much of the walk was actually in forest with small but tantalising peep-throughs of the lake itself with those reflections of the mountains.

The coast on this side of the island was quite different (much more rugged) than the East side of the South Island, with the rainforest reaching right down to the coastline in many places. It took us a few days to head up the coast, stopping at various places to explore. One particularly nice walk was a coastal walk that took us through three different types of woodland/forest, to a freshwater lake and back again, all in about an hour.

We also stopped at a few small towns on the way to look around, including:

Ross - A gold panning town with plenty of things still remaining from that era, not least the wild west atmosphere.
Hokatitia - Known for its Jade carving and quite a holiday town feel to it.
Punakaika - a tiny settlement, but famous for the Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes, (we missed the blowing as the tide was out!).
Greymouth - a town for train enthusiasts as it is the stopping point TranzAlpine Train, which crosses over Arthurs Pass, apparently one of teh great train journeys of the world.
Westport - a larger town, where we stopped for some shopping necessities.

Our plan is to explore most of the West coast from bottom to top, and then to head across the central mountain range back to the Eastern side to visit Hamner Srpings, a very popular ski and hot springs resort, back on the eastern side of the island.

Tossing up between Buller Gorge and Arthurs Pass (both apparently amazing "Must Do"s), we choose Buller Gorge as being most likely the easiest of the two routes in bad weather for a big campervan.
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candcthai on

Re: Campervan?
We sourced our campervan when we got here and got a much better deal than the internet offerings (using the official ISite offices). I think they price according to demand at the time and as we arrived in Winter, we were able to get a 6 berth for less than NZ$50 a day including the full monty insurance and no extra mileage costs. However, there are two of us and a 6 berth is a bit too big (the 2 berth WAY too small). Of all the people we have met with campers, I can say the Kea Vans look pretty good, which your link refers to. Some of the cheaper companies have really rough looking campers with terrible looking equipment inside. You will have a great time. It is an amazing place.

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