New Zealand’s West Coast is famous for its rain, of which we experienced a lot, but it also gets a lot of sunshine and then the scenery really sparkles. Travelling through the region requires a lot of driving as the road twists and turns up and down the mountains. However the views are excellent (except when it is really raining hard!) and picturesque picnic spots at which to pull over and chill out are frequent (assuming you are hardy enough to not mind the sand flies). There are also a variety of short trails through the temperate rain forest. We stopped at one called the Blue Pools—a bridge spanning the confluence point of two mountain rivers of crystal clear water.
Haast is a convenient spot to overnight between Wanaka and the Glaciers. Despite being a very small town, the visitor centre is really informative, with a large room full of displays and a video about the geography and history of the region. At Fox Glacier we headed straight for the famous Lake Matheson. We knew it was the wrong time of day to get the still waters required for the lake to mirror the mountains but the Lonely Planet raved about the café there and it was lunchtime! The food did not disappoint, and it was not particularly crowded so we had a very relaxed time eating outside in the deck admiring the cloud-shrouded mountains. Sadly the cloud did not lift so we were unable to see Aoraki / Mount Cook at all, let alone reflected.
After a post-walk-around-the-lake coffee (finally the baby picked a good time and place to want food!), we hiked up the terminal moraine to get a view of the Fox Glacier. This was a fairly challenging 90 minute walk carrying 7.5kg of baby over rough ground but the dramatic and dynamic nature of the landscape was worth it.
The drive to Franz Josef required navigating another exciting mountain road and as we arrived at the turn for the glacier walk there was a beautiful rainbow glistening in the sunshine. Despite the strong evening sunshine it too late to make the 90 minute walk up to the glacier and back so we crossed our fingers and hoped the fine weather would continue the next morning. The end of daylight saving time meant some extra time in bed in the morning but heavy rain woke us early—the weather and forecast was not promising. Undeterred we planned to carry on, but then realised that the cloud cover was so low, it as unlikely we would see very much on our walk.
Engaging plan B and hoping the cloud cover would lift later in the morning, we paid a visit to one of the few indoor attractions in the area, the West Coast Wildlife centre. Here we saw two kiwi chicks of the very rare rowa variety, 7 and 9 weeks old. They are nocturnal so the enclosure was dark but it was very cool to watch them snuffling around, probing the earth with their beaks. The rest of the centre had some information and videos on how they are conserving the kiwi population which were good, and then a display about glaciers that was mostly video-based and consequently required much patience to follow and understand. Finally there was a section on the history of the area which was again poorly presented such as to require considerable effort to extract the information.
The rain had now stopped although the cloud cover remained low but after one of Jimmy’s Famous Pies (delicious), we decided the glacier had to be seen. As we arrived at the car park the rain resumed, harder than ever. By the time we had changed into our waterproofs, it had become torrential—like a monsoon—and after we had seen other people returning to their cars soaked to the skin, we decided that the days it would take to dry out our stuff again was not worth it given the high likelihood of there not even being anything worth seeing through the rain! It proved a good decision as there was no let up in the monsoon rains for several hours, so we had a tasty lunch of pasties and Danish pastries from the Picnics bakery, and set off North to our next destination.