We left Wharariki and headed back out to Highway 6, stopping along the way at Neudorf Vineyards for some free wine tasting and the Moutere Inn for a beer, pizza and free WiFi! Once on the 6 we stopped at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge, the longest in NZ. We paid to go across the bridge and did a short walk. Unfortunately it was raining so we didn’t get to do any of the other walks there.
From there we continued out to the West Coast. We had hoped to spend about a week on the west coast, slowly traveling down, however the weather had different plans for us! We were hit with several heavy storms and ended up only spending 3 nights between Westport and Haast. Our first night was a stop in Westport. We stayed at a nice campground and the next morning stopped at the Lighthouse and resident seal colony just south of the city. We dodged the rain and were able to do the short walks out to see both. Once our eyes focused we were able to see about 50 seals, many of which were pups. They were really fun to watch from up above on the viewing platform.
Continuing down the west coast our next stop would be Punakaiki or the Pancake rocks. These large rocks protruding from the ocean are stacked in a way that the scientists are still unsure how they were formed. You walk along a track out to the rocks and during high tide are able to see some amazing blowholes and fierce pools. We arrived just after high tide and were able to experience some great shows! A few times the main blowhole shot up almost 30 feet into the air.
Our next stop was Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. Jason had taken a liking to their double I.P.A and we stopped off to see what else they had. We were a bit disappointed at the price for a tour (around $20 each!) so we opted for a couple of beers and some delicious potato wedges instead of the tour.
After filling our bellies with a snack we headed South past Hokitika to our camp for the night. This was our first Department of Conservation (DOC) site and at $12 for the night was a pretty good stop, although basic. We camped right up from Lake Mahinapua. It was nice and quiet and a good stop for the night.
The next morning we headed to the glaciers. First up was Franz Josef where Jason walked the 1.5 hour return up to the glacier face. He spent some time taking pictures, while Simone took a nap in the campervan. The hike to the glacier is a very easy flat walk that takes you through a bit of open forest before opening into the massive valley that was carved by the glacier over thousands of years. The path continues up the river bed with little wooden foot bridges over the braided streams criss-crossing their way down the valley. Waterfalls crash down from just about every angle if you’re lucky enough to catch them after a rain.
Only being able to get to within 400 meters (a little more than 1300 feet) of the face because of safety reasons, you can get a look but not really get a good idea of the immense size until you see the helicopter fly in to pick up the people that paid to go for a guided walk on the glacier. A guided trip in a helicopter is the only way you’re able to see this particular glacier up close. Unfortunately we didn’t do the helicopter trip!
After spending some time at Franz Josef, we drove to Fox Glacier for the night. We camped at a campground right next to a glowworm forest, so after dark we took a stroll into the forest to see the glowworms lighting up the night. It was quite a site and free as compared to the $100 glowworm cave tours via boat or tubes!
The next morning we headed to Fox Glacier and did part of the walk to the terminal face, another storm was coming in and we wanted to get down to Haast to see if we would make it over the pass or not. Haast Pass had a terrible rockslide a few weeks prior that took out part of the road and threatened to continue falling! Luckily, even as the rain started the road was still open and we were told at the visitor centre to keep going! We made it through the pass and at the slide site were guided through one car at a time! We passed by some beautiful lakes and stayed in Wanaka for the night. Wanaka is a great vacation town that swells with visitors during summer and winter. It offers a great lake and access to ski fields. Our camp for the night was the nicest yet with a heated shower room and indoor hot tubs, great kitchen and free Wifi!