After spending a couple of days in gloriously sunny Wanaka, it was time to continue our journey back north, and this meant travelling back up the rugged West Coast. Much like the first time we traveled down that coast, our trip back up was blustery, grey and ridden with sand flies. I’ve decided to do another post as with Matt we managed to see completely different things. Although the West Coast of the South Island was not our favourite area to travel, it does have plenty of things to see and do, especially if you’re interested in seeing some native wildlife. We were making our way up to the north of the island to explore the Abel Tasman National Park, so on the way we stopped at Fox Glacier (we saw Franz Josef last time), Hokitika and then up to Westport.
The first leg was Wanaka to Fox Glacier, quite a long drive in comparison to others we had done, so we stopped on the way to stretch our legs. This time around we avoided Haast like the plague, as the last time we were there we were eaten alive by sand flies, and it’s also a dead-end town with nothing to see (sorry Haast). So this time around we stopped off at a small beach called Ship Creek (above photo), thinking we could have a short walk and then carry on our journey. As we got out of the car, a woman said to us that she and her family had just seen Dolphins swimming in the water, and that we should go and see. We stood on the beach for a few minutes and initially we could see some dolphin-like blobs in the distance, and then a few minutes later two Hector dolphins in the shallows just a few metres away. We agreed that this was a very successful driving break indeed.
We next stopped at Fox Glacier, where we stayed over night. The glacier is situated a very short drive outside the little town of the same name, and once you’ve parked up there’s about a 20 minute walk to the glacier. It’s a bit more impressive than its neighbour, Franz Josef, as you can get quite a bit closer and it looks a lot bigger. Unfortunately, to get the full experience you’ve got to book a tour and get a helicopter up to the top of the glacier, where you can have a guided walk on the ice. But on our budget we had to settle for a view from the bottom. Like Franz Josef it’s quite grey, and unfortunately a bit underwhelming.
Just outside the Fox Glacier town is Lake Matheson, and a visit to that was not a disappointment. We had seen photos of Lake Matheson on postcards and thought that it couldn’t possibly look as cool in real life. It has a brilliantly reflective surface, when the wind dies down and the water becomes still, the lake perfectly mirrors the sky. On a relatively clear day you can also see Mount Cook in the distance. We went on a very cloudy day, but we could still see the mountains and the clouds actually looked really cool reflected in the water. In my opinion, Lake Matheson is more of a beautiful attraction than the glaciers (if you can’t afford the helicopter rides, at least).
Our journey the next day continued further north. We stopped off once again in the little town of Hokitika. We were only there for one night, and that evening we visited a nearby glow worm dell, as neither Grace nor Davey had seen them before. We walked into the dell in the pitch black, all clinging on to each other, and were soon surrounded by tiny twinkling blue worms. It’s a shame we didn’t go and see the glow worms with Clare and Tim (I didn’t know they were there!), because they were very cool, and very bright.
The next day we drove on up to Westport, our final point on the West Coast, via the Punakaiki Rocks. The Punakaiki Rocks are these huge pancake rocks just off the coast, and nobody is quite sure how they were formed. There are large holes in the rocks, worn away by the waves, and when the water comes crashing in there’s a deafening bellow. After a short time looking at the rocks we got some whitebait fritters (a West Coast classic) and continued on to Westport. Westport was overcast and drizzly, so there’s not much to report there as we stayed inside mostly.
We were all looking forward to heading away from the West coast towards the Abel Tasman National Park. The West Coast wasn’t our favourite part of New Zealand, to say the least. The gloomy skies and blustery winds had taken their toll.