West Coast and the Glaciers

We stopped for the night at Springfield, the last town before the Southern Alps. The Alps split the South Island in two and can only be crossed through a few passes. From Springfield the windy road continues to Arthur’s Pass before starting the plunge down towards the isolated West Coast.

Unfortunately our luck with the weather had ran out at this point. The day was really cloudy and it was raining almost constantly. And to make matters even worse it was really foggy too making any landscape photos more or less impossible. We still had a couple of quick stops along the way but with the weather so miserable we didn’t bother much with sightseeing. There are some rather impressive waterfalls right next to the road after Arthur’s Pass. But they are lot less impressive when you can barely see them through the thick fog.

Things didn’t really improve on the West Coast either. To be fair that wasn’nt really surprising, as West Coast is well-known for the its massive rainfall. We did have a rather lengthy stop in Hokitika though. Hokitika is the center of the jade industry in New Zealand and contains numerous jade studios and various art galleries. While not really my cup of tea it was still a decent way to spend a rainy afternoon.

As weather didn’t really improve much after Hokitika we just kept driving towards our destination for the night, the Franz Josef Glacier. Luckily rain had finally stopped by then and as we had some daylight left we decided to do the short walk to the glacier edge. Only guided tours are allowed on the glacier itself, but you can still get reasonably close to the glacier after a reasonably walk. Franz Josef Glacier and the nearby Fox Glacier are one of the few glaciers right next to a (temperate) rainforest.

It was pleasant enough walk through the glacial valley and the glacier itself is an interesting enough sight. The glacially-formed valley floor is also quite interesting and along the edges there are several smaller waterfalls. And to make things even better we also got treated to a rather nice sunset on the way back.

After the hike to the glacier edge it was time to catch some dinner and then we headed to our hostel for the night. As a nice bonus our hostel had a sauna. Obviously just an electric one at a rather low temperature, but it’s still better than nothing; especially after a damp day.

Luckily weather had improved a little bit by the next morning. We decided to skip the walk to Fox Glacier and instead visit the nearby Lake Matheson. This lake is well-known for its picture-perfect reflections of the nearby mountains and a very popular subject of postcard photos. On a cloudy day like this it was not quite as impressive sight but still very pretty. Eija and I also had a quick swim in the lake after we finally found a way to get to the actual water edge. By then it had started raining again and the water was rather cool to begin with, so this was another refreshing experience.

By the time we got back to the car things were getting quite damp for everyone. In any case it was time to move on and leave the glacier towns behind us. Luckily the rain didn’t last so we did have a few other quick stops along the coast, including the wild Monro Beach and the pretty Knight Point.

Then it was time to head to Haast, our last stop before crossing the Southern Alps again. But before Haast we had to cross Haast River and the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand. South Island is full of one-lane bridges but at 737 meters the Haast Bridge is in the league of its own.

Haast itself has little to do or see, but along the way through the Haast Pass there are several nice stops. We did several short bushwalks and visited a couple of nice waterfalls. Of particular interest were the Blue Pools, a series of deep pools with crystal clear water. The azure blue water comes from glaciers and you can easily see all the way to the bottom.

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