West Coast South Island, New Zealand

It;s amazing just how quickly the landscape can change in an area as small as the South Island, but if you drive from the Southern Lakes District (Central Otago) across the Haast Pass to the West Coast, and then north you will see what I mean. You go from the lakes area and surrounds, through an almost rainforest-like area to the rugged coast where blackened, sinister looking trees line the way. This then takes you on to the splendor of the glaciers coming down Mt Cook (Aoraki). I don't know if it's true or not as the weather was misty, but it is said that from the West Coast near Haast, on a clear day you can make out Australia's coastline on the horizon.

Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers

Probably the main attraction of the West Coast is the glaciers - Fox and Franz Josef townships help offer easy access to these two glaciers in particular, and there are guides who can take you onto the glacier itself. Additionally, there are packages that let you fly to the top of the glaciers to see them from a whole different viewpoint. There are different packages available to suit different budgets and levels of fitness.

To just walk up to near the glacier faces is free and doesn't need a guide, but make sure you heed all the warning signs, as avalanches are common in the valleys you will walk up. We took this free option and got good views (although both glaciers had receeded alot since I was last there many years ago), but I now regret not staying an extra night in one of the townships to allow time for one of the guided walks - one night is certainly not enough in this part of the country.

As to which glacier is the better one to see, I won't make a choice - each has its own unique character about it. There are also other glaciers in the area, but they are unfortunately not as easily accessable.

Punakaiki - The Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

The next stop on our trip was Punakaiki, just north of Greymouth. On the coast, and on the edge of a National Park, there are a few things that can be done around this very small town. One thing we did get to see was the Punakaiki Cavern, a cave you can explore yourself - although we weren't prepared enough to delve too deep inside.

The main drawcard though is the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks, as the name suggests are an area of the coast where the sea has carved the rocks in such a way that they look like stacks of pancakes. The reasons behind this unusual rock formation are still largely unknown, but a few theories have been developed and are outlined at the site itself. Additionally there is an information centre just across the road. It is hard to describe what you see here, and in this case a picture really is worth a thousand words, so check out the photos below for some idea of how the rocks look.

Also when the tide is in and pounding hard enough against the rocks, the blowholes come into action, with water shooting overhead. Unfortunately we didn't get our timing right, so didn't get to see it for ourselves. Plan to spend maybe half a day here if you want to see the blowholes in action.

This area is easily accessable with sealed pathways, and a good section of it is also wheelchair accessable. For more information refer to the DOC website below. In the evening you can sit on the beach and watch the sun set behind the pancake rocks - a beauitful setting for a sunset.

Things to remember:

The roads to and from, and also on the West Coast are typically winding South Island roads in many areas, and should be driven with some caution
When walking in most areas of National Parks, ensure you are appropriately prepared - refer DOC website for info on what you need to take, and check conditions with them prior to setting off


Coming Soon:

Fox Glacier / Franz Josef Glacier / Punakaiki

For more information, go to:

Department of Conservation (DOC)
Alpine Guides
Franz Josef Glacier Guides

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