Article Travel New Zealand's West Coast
When you travel the South Island, the West Coast is a must. It has lots to offer, especially a stunning coastline with the mountains on the one side and the ocean on the other.
Our first stop was the Pororari River, just a few minutes before the famous Pancake Rocks. We chose to walk a 2 hour return track along the Pororari River, which we highly recommend. You can walk up to a swing bridge and just return on the same path. If you didn’t know where you were, you could believe it was Southeast Asia due to the large rocks and palm trees along the river. The walk was already beautiful on a cloudy day and I am sure it is even better in the sun. There are also other longer tracking options in this area, which are all called the Inland Pack Track and can be walked in various options like a loop back to the main road that takes a bit longer than the walk we did.
After finishing the trail walk, we drove 5 minutes down south to the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, one of the first things you might think about when considering New Zealand’s West Coast. There is a well maintained path that guides you through the different lookouts with great views around the Pancake Rocks. If you are lucky enough to go there at high tide, there might be sea water splashing through the blow holes. You should plan to spend between 20-60 minutes there, depending on how many pictures you take and how much time you like to spend watching the force of the sea rushing through the blowholes.
After eating the mandatory pancake meal in the Pancake Rocks Cafe we continued driving south to Greymouth. We stayed the night at Central Park Camping, so to be in close walking distance to Monteith’s Brewery, which had been recommended by our flatmate back in Auckland. The campground is just a simple parking lot behind a gas station with showers, toilets, a little lounge and even washing machines and dryers. It’s a perfect $25 camping spot if you want to spend the evening in the city and have a few drinks. The Monteith’s Brewery sells delicious food and good beer and even offers brewery tours if you are interested.
We left the campground around 10 am with Franz Josef Glacier as our destination. If you have a nice sunny day, there is a 45 minutes detour (one way) to the Hokitika Gorge. You can do a 15 minute walk and enjoy excellent views of the blue-green waters of the Hokitika River as it makes its way through the rock sided Hokitika Gorge.
We chose the Rainforest Retreat Campground in Franz Josef Village for the next two nights. They have beautiful camping sites in the middle of the rainforest, a nice restaurant and a spa pool and sauna as well. The showers and kitchen facilities are pretty good and we really enjoyed our stay. When we arrived we walked through the city and looked for different companies that offer helicopter rides. Unfortunately the weather was too cloudy and rainy to take off, so we explored the glaciers on foot the next day. At first, we drove to Franz Josef Glacier, named after the famous Austrian Emperor and husband of Empress Sisi. It is only a 10 minutes drive from the village. After you cross the river over a one lane bridge, you need to immediately turn left to enter the car park. There are various short walks from there and most of them with views of the glacier, of course. The main walk to the glacier lookout, the Franz Josef Glacier Walk, is a 1:30 hour return-walk, which includes some rough riverbed crossing, so proper hiking shoes are recommended. You can also do an easier walk, the Glacier View at the end of the Forest Walk which only takes 30 minutes return. Additionally, you will find the 20 minute return Sentinel Rock Walk with spectacular glacier views. If you are after some advanced hiking tracks, there is the Alex Knob Track. The return track takes about 8 hours, 17.2 km and includes the climb to the top of Alex Knob. This track is for experienced and well-equipped trampers only. You should check with the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre, i-SITE or online before starting any advanced tracks.
Another advanced tramping track is the Roberts Point Track which requires a good level of fitness. After walking one hour you will reach Hende's Hut. From there the track continues to climb on to Roberts Point where the glacier views are spectacular. It is a 11-12.3 km return via the same track which takes about 5:20 hours. For more information, click here.
We only did the 1:30 hours Franz Josef Glacier Walk because of the bad weather condition.
Next stop was Fox Glacier, which took us about half an hour to get there. We initially planned to drive to the Fox Glacier Car Park over the Fox Glacier/Te Ara o Tuawe access road to do the Fox Glacier Valley Walk. This walk leads you pretty close to the glacier. Unfortunately the road and track were closed due to recent incidents where the road has been washed out in several places.
It was also not possible to drive on the Glacier View Road to the car park of the Fox Glacier Chalet Lookout Track at the other side of the glacier/river bed, but it was possible to park on the main road and walk the road with a little detour over the Moraine Walk which leads through a nice, pretty green forest track. From the main road car park to the last lookout at this track it is about 2-3 hours return. From the lookout you can spot the huge landslide that washed away the road on the other side of the valley. We had a good look at the glacier, but we were a little disappointed that we were not able to get closer.
Even though we were not able to do a helicopter ride ourselves, we would highly recommend it on a sunny day. We think it is the perfect but, also, most expensive way to explore the glaciers.
Another walk close to the Fox Glacier is the Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk, a 1:30 return, 2.6 km return lake circuit which is famous for mirror views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. Dawn and dusk must be the best times to enjoy the reflections in the lake. There is also a shorter option to the Jetty Viewpoint. It is a 40 minutes and 1 km return walk which is also suitable for assisted wheelchairs. The jetty provides a magnificent mountain view reflected in the dark waters.
As you continue driving south you will drive over the Haast Pass that leads you to Wanaka. Read more about the Pass and Lake Wanaka Region in this article.