What To See And Skip On New Zealand's NW Coast Of The South Island
From Kaiteriteri, we bussed down NZ's West Coast (on the South Island). The final destination on this leg was Franz Josef and its spectacular glacier, but there were a few places of note before then. First, we stopped off at Lake Rotoiti for a dip in the water with some eels. I decided to stay dry, while others jumped in.
There are quite a few sand flies on the shore, so go for the view or get out on the lake rather than sitting on the rocks.
Then our first town was tiny Westport, a surf locale 3.5 hours south of Kaiteriteri, but you will probably want to continue on Highway 6's windy road to the famous Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.
It's an easily accessible roadside attraction, with a cafe and gift shop nearby. Yes, they serve pancakes, but beware...they're $20! Breakfasts in NZ contradict the norm. Rather than being the least expensive meals of the day, they're often dinner prices.
Across the road is a nicely paved walkway to view the incredible rock formations made of compressed limestone and sea bed layers. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine a dinosaur wandering around, after all, this started forming 30 million years ago! While the timeline of the two doesn't quite match up, it's still a fascinating combination of sea critters, clay, wind, and water combining into thin pancake-like layers along this rugged coast.
Back on the road, it was another 3 hours to Franz Josef where I had a nice glimpse at the speedily receding glacier. Viewing the ice is easy by foot, especially when using the $12.50 return van, which delivered me from town to the glacier parking lot.
From there, I had my pick of seemingly endless trails. I first chose the easy walking path, which is 1.5 hour return.
There was also a much longer 6 hour walk...no thank you, not this time. There are longer walks in my future to tell you about.
While I was in the area, I took another path by Peter's Pool. Beautiful, isn't it?
Trails abound from the parking lot, and I could have continued for hours, if it weren't for the return shuttle pick-up time. Not to worry, though. If you miss the shuttle, it's only a 4k walk back into town, with nice views from the road.
In town, there is a forested walking path to a tunnel with Glowworms that I took with a nice group of Americans who I met at the Glacier Hot Pools. (Side note: BBH members can get a $5 discount on the pools.)
We all went on a very rainy walk and then to dinner. It was an unexpected finish to the day that left me appreciating the random connections and friendly nature of fellow travelers.
If you decide to visit the glacier, just know that it rains...a lot. The famous helicopter ride to explore the glacier on foot is very weather dependent, so be prepared to spend a few days in the area to try again if your ride is initally cancelled. Hopefully you hit it on the right day, and there's no issue. If it doesn't work out, you can save about $400 and get pretty close to the glacier for free, like I chose to do.
From here, I headed to Wanaka and Queenstown for some more beautiful outings!
West Coast Links and Information:
Map from Kaiteriteri to Franz Josef
Jump in Lake Rotoiti for an iconic photo.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks is a must-see Earth concoction.
Franz Josef has a gorgeous glacier, with access by foot and helicopter.
Walking Paths to the glacier and Peter's Pool.
Glacier Hot Pools are a nice way to spend a couple of hours, and if you're a BBH member, you get a $5 discount.
Full of Beans cafe has the best hamburger I've had in NZ, where quality/pricing match-up.