On the Great Coast Road (SH6) rain is a near constant factor. We visited in February (rain!) returning after Christmas hoping for sunnier days to visit Hokitika, The Glaciers, and Haast.
1) Hokitika Gorge (ho KEE te ka)
It started out wet….pouring rain obscured all mountains on the 40 minute drive from Hokitika to the Gorge. I hear it is an eyeful. Still worth it! A loop walk with 2 suspension bridges, one of NZ’s longest (90 meters, 300 ft), crossing the turquoise river through the treetops.
The stunning blue water is caused by rocks from the mountains ground into powder by the movement of glaciers. The suspension of white powder in the blue water creates the intense turquoise color – rain or shine.
2) Hokitika – The Town
Hokitika (ho KEE te ka), Maōri meaning “return in a straight line” is a great lunch or overnight stop with a sweep through the shops for pounamu (greenstone – jade) or feeding the eels at the National Kiwi (bird) Centre.
Beach Driftwood Art – Hokitika
3) The Glaciers! Franz Josef and Fox
Once stretching to the sea, these inland glaciers (Kiwi pronunciation ‘glassy-urs’) are about 25 minutes apart driving distance. See both. Because they have greatly receded, on-glacier experiences require guides and/or helicopters. Options are glacier hiking, landings and/or heli-ice climbing trips.
We stayed 3 nights in Franz Josef to increase our chances of good weather for dry hikes and helicopter flight-seeing – it paid off.
HIkes – Valley Walks
Franz Josef Glacier Walk is a 1.5 hour trek to a point near the base. During our visit, walks beyond the 45 minutes were closed for maintenance, due to recent washouts.
Fox Glacier lies in a steep valley and floods often wash away the trails. The Fox Glacier Valley Walkway is a 2.5 hr. walk (return) through a majestic rainforest to various distant viewpoints. It’s a beauty of a trail (for both feet and bikes.)
The road/trail on the opposite side of the river washed away in 2019 and is indefinitely closed. A rebuild could not survive the heavy rain events the area experiences on a regular basis.
Our days at the glaciers were the first sunny days in weeks. We flew with Glacier Country Helicopter / Guy & Melissa).
Franz Josef Glacier Township (population 400) has more options than Fox (pop 260) for shops and restaurants, plus Franz Josef Glacier Hot Pools, for a soak.
Both towns were reeling from loss of tourism due to Covid and fighting for survival. Being a 5 to 7 hour drive from anywhere (Christchurch, Nelson, Invercargill, Dunedin) each visitor counts.
Unrelenting forces of nature – earthquake, flood, extreme weather, leave their mark. The slip below was a result of a 2019 flood. The flood swept away the bridge over the Waiho River, closing SH6, the only road along the West Coast, leading to an economic loss of up to $50m (and a heroic rebuild).
4) Lake Matheson
Near Fox Glacier is picturesque Lake Matheson with a 90 minute loop walk. Be there at sunrise for the iconic Mt Cook/Mt Tasman mirror-lake photo op. (Two visits…not visible either time).
State Highway 6 hugs the rugged coast. The biggest elevations and jagged peaks stretch south from Haast through Milton Sound and Mt. Aspiring.
Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls
State Highway 6, south towards Wanaka, is stunning with cascading waterfalls and thick forest.
The Blue Pools – south on SH6
It’s a 25 minute walk from the carpark to the pools – swim or hike
Beyond the pools and over the bridge, the 3.5 mile (single track) Young Valley Track, is thick with ferns, funky trees, mushrooms. Walk a ways…wow, wow and wow!
What We Missed
- Okarito Lagoon Kayaking – between Hokitika and FJ (Photos indicate a MUST DO!)
- Okarito Trig Walk
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