West coast wonders
The next morning we headed towards the opposite West coast where we could see the "pancake layered rocks" and the famous glaciers. The road again didn't disapoint with beautiful sceneries, but it took us longer than expected because although distances are short, with frequent curves, villages, one lane bridges and other photo stops, let alone the amazing 20km/h top speed of our van in steep uphills,
it's impossible to drive at a good constant speed. The landscape on the West coast is quite distinctive: silver ferns, flax (a native plant) and other coastal trees.
The so called pancake layered rocks stand on the sea cliffs, exposed to continous water erosion. It's nice to see if you are around but there is nothing to regret if you miss it. Walking on glaciers
Further south we reached the two most visited glaciers in New Zealand, Franz Joseph (named after the emperor by Haast, an austrian explorer) and Fox (named after the first minister who visited it). Both glaciers are fast advancing ones, something of a rarity apparently; and can be visited. On our first day there we simply took a walk towards Franz Joseph glacier admiring the rocky landscape on the way. On the second day we took a day walk on Fox glacier as it was the cheapest and we soon realised why: in winter the sun never hits the glacier! Not so good for taking pictures, but the good news is that the ice remains icy blue. As soon as the sun hits the ice, the air inside the ice expand and the ice turns to solid white.
We spent about three-four hours walking around with our crampons. The mountain guide company also sends some people to carve stairs on the ice to ease the access; because the ice is moving fast, they have to create new steps every couple of weeks. You will see on the pictures those stairs as well as the many cavities and texture of the glacier. It was our first time on a glacier and it was well worth the experience!