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The wild West Coast

We’d seen spectacular scenery, volcanic activity and beautiful beaches on our travels in New Zealand, but we were now entering the ‘Wild West’ – where the stormy Tasman Sea batters the rugged coast, giant glaciers calve through sheer rock and crumbling cliff tops create treacherous roads.

The Wild West Coast

The wild West Coast

Our first stop was at Bullers Gorge to see New Zealand’s longest swingbridge. We had thought that this attraction would be free, but we were surprised to find that visitors must pay $10 just to see the bridge – let alone walk across it!

At 110 metres, the bridge spans the width of the Buller River, which you can see raging below.

At 110 metres, the bridge spans the width of the Buller River, which rages below.

As well as the bridge, there’s also a zipline across the river that you could try (for a fee, of course), and you can also try your hand at panning for gold. But while we were there it seemed like everything besides the bridge was closed, so we amused ourselves by taking one of the short walks from the bridge to see the White Creek fault line. Although the fault line walk was interesting, the main attraction here really is the swingbridge – I’m just not sure it’s really worth the money to see…

Don't look down!

Don’t look down!

Although long, it doesn't bounce about like you would expect it to. It's disappointingly sturdy!

Although long, it doesn’t bounce about like you would expect it to. It’s disappointingly sturdy!

Moving on from Bullers Gorge, we soon found the coast and arrived at Punakaiki just in time for high tide – the perfect conditions to see the Pancake Rocks.

The famous pancake rocks

These rocks are very special because they’re layered sandstone, eroded away but the rough Tasman Sea over millions of years to create what looks like stacks of pancakes!

The rocks themselves are impressive to see, but it’s the blowholes that come to life at high tide that are the most exciting aspect of this natural wonder. As the waves crash against the rocks, water gets pushed up through holes and sprays out into the sky like a fireman’s hose – I got soaked when a hidden blowhole nearby suddenly erupted and wind blew the salty sea spray all over me!

Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture of my soaking

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of my soaking

Carrying on down the coast, we came across a small town called Hokitika which has a beach that demonstrates just how destructive the wild Tasman Sea can be. The beach was covered – not just in driftwood – but in entire trees that had been washed up on the shore.

The beach showed just how powerful the Tasman Sea can be.. And locals have found a great way to use some of the driftwood!

The beach showed just how powerful the Tasman Sea can be.. And locals have found a great way to use some of the driftwood!

After enjoying many spectacular views of the rugged west coast from the road, which hugs the shoreline, we began moving back inland and started spotting snow-capped mountains in the distance. We were entering glacier country.

One of the many nice views we found ourselves driving towards

One of the many nice views we found ourselves driving towards

We arrived early in the morning to see the first of two glaciers in New Zealand – Franz Josef Glacier. Different to the creaking and groaning Perito Moreno glacier we saw in Argentina, this glacier started retreating in 2008, which means it is melting away rather than advancing towards the sea. It’s also smaller – just 12km long. We knew it wouldn’t be like the Perito Moreno, but what we found disappointing was how far away it was. Despite walking for around an hour to get to the viewing platform, the glacier was too far to really appreciate properly. It was clear that others have found this disappointing in the past too, because the platform was littered with signs warning people to stay inside the fence and not approach the glacier.

Franz Josef glacier

Franz Josef glacier. What we could see clearly from the platform was the power of the ice in previous years, which had calved its own path from the mountains through the rock and into the sea – creating a huge valley.

Another glacier popular with tourists, Fox Glacier, was even less impressive in our opinions. Recent rock falls had left the glacier with a coating of grey dust and rocks, making it look rather dirty.

It seemed a world away from the beautiful ice blue and bright white peaks we’d seen in Argentina.

It seemed a world away from the beautiful ice blue and bright white peaks we’d seen in Argentina.

Maybe we would have felt differently if we’d had the money and time to do a heli-hike on the glacier (a helicopter ride over the top of the glacier and some time on the ice itself).

Leaving the glaciers behind we agreed that although we’d been disappointed, the glaciers were still remarkable. Not because they were the best we had seen, but because they were in the same small country that had also shown us warm white sand beaches, violent volcanic displays and steamy rainforests of giant trees. New Zealand really is a country of huge diversity.

Leaving the west coast behind, we set off for the Haast Pass, which would lead us through the Southern Alps and into Wanaka.

The Gates of Haast

The Gates of Haast

I’d heard that it was a particularly treacherous road in the South Island, mainly because of its winding bends and occasional rock falls, but we managed to get through it without incident.

One of the sections that we passed had recently seen a rockslide that had claimed the lives of two Canadian tourists.

One of the sections that we passed had recently seen a rockslide that had claimed the lives of two Canadian tourists.

The pass is also particularly popular with tourists, who take advantage of the many short walks and viewpoints dotted along the way. One walk that we had to stop for was the Blue Pools Walk – a short walk through a native silver beech forest, ending at the pools themselves. The glacier-fed water in these is the colour of bright azure blue, and so clear that you can see right to the bottom.

The colour was astounding, even with the dull light from the overcast sky above. I can only imagine how they must look in the sunlight!

The colour was astounding, even with the dull light from the overcast sky above. I can only imagine how they must look in the sunlight!

We could have stayed for far longer, but both of us were getting eaten alive by the vicious sandflies – they were even biting through my jeans!

When we reached the end of the pass we were greeted with the most spectacular view of Lake Hawea and we knew we’d left the wild West Coast behind, with the Otago region yet to come.

Lake Hawea. This looked amazing even with stormy clouds overhead.

Lake Hawea looked amazing even with stormy clouds overhead.

Comments

  1. You two are still making me jealous with news of your exploits, and now you cant even be bothered to come home! Good on you! You’ll be back at work for a long time so draw it out as long as you can! Cant believe its been a year already!

    We’re all good here. Ben just had his 4th birthday and got into the school we wanted for him. Other than that, its much the same!

    Take care of yourselves and keep the blogs coming. Its lovely to hear that you’re having such a fantastic time.

    • Glad you’re still reading! There’s lots more good stuff to come 🙂 So happy that Ben’s got into a good school – can’t believe he’s four now. He’s going to be bigger than Dale by the time we get home!

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