Things to Do on the West Coast

Feel like some adrenaline-pumping action, interspersed with some quieter moments to rest and reflect? Well, in South Westland you are in the right place.

Your Franz Joseph accommodation is in the heart of a region where both adventure and contemplation are a specialty.  Here are some ideas for some thrills and some laid-back chill time.

Ice Hike

Sure, you can poke about at the terminal face of the glaciers by yourself.....but to really get to know the massive forces and stunning beauty of the ice, take a hike on the Franz Joseph Glacier with Franz Joseph Glacier Guides or the Fox Glacier with Fox Glacier Guiding.  Towering pinnacles of ice, deep crevasses, crystal streams of melt-water which disappear abruptly into blue chasms....this is a world completely unlike anything you will ever have seen.  To walk on ice which may have been formed long before Europeans discovered New Zealand makes you realize just how short the human lifespan is in comparison to the eons of time it takes to shape a landscape.

Gillespie's Beach

A thirty minute drive from Fox Glacier, this wild beach of drifting sea haze and flat, ocean-worn stones has dramatic views of the Southern Alps and some quaint miner’s history. The somber little cemetery, set in a bushy clearing, has a handful of graves which make you wonder about the lives of the people who left far-off shores to die here on the West Coast.  You can walk for ages along the beach past the weathered remains of trees which have been uprooted from the distant forests by floods, washed out to sea where their foliage and bark was flayed off by the waves and then finally thrown back up onto the stones.  Gillespie’s Beach is a dramatic, romantic place.  Take a picnic, light a driftwood fire then sprawl beside it and watch the waves.

Skydive

Feel like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane twelve thousand feet above a glacier?  Well you’ve come to the right place!  SkydiveNZ does tandem skydives over Fox Glacier, giving you a chance to see a 360 degree panorama of the ocean, mountains, glaciers and sky while you plummet at terminal velocity towards the ground.  Mind-blowingly good fun, if there is one adventure activity you should do on the West Coast, this is it.  You won’t be able to stop grinning for about three days afterwards.  

Lake Matheson

Like a mirror wrapped in a frame of rainforest, the still waters of Lake Matheson perfect reflections of the jagged summits of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.  From the new café/restaurant at the car-park it is a fifteen minute walk to the first viewing platform which nestles amid a canopy of forest above a fringe of rushes where ducks and swamp hens can be observed. A further forty-five minutes takes you to the viewing platform at the far end of the lake from which you can see the stunning reflections of the mountains.  Early morning is the best time to visit the lake.  Later in the day, breezes spring up and the reflections disappear.

Valley Hike

The valleys of both the Franz Joseph and the Fox Glaciers have superb walks from the main road up to the glacier’s terminal faces.  Along the way you are walking through a living diorama of how the glaciers have shaped the landscape: from the ice-gouged rock walls to the piles of moraine, the rivers whose milky colour comes from “rock flour” or powdered mountain, and tiny lakes left by the retreating glaciers.  Check out the DoC website or the Park Headquarters for more information.  Both walks take about two hours so take a snack, water and sun-block, wear good footwear and don’t forget your raincoat for the fickle West Coast weather.  It isn’t called the “Wet Coat” for nothing!

Helicopter

To let you experience the high basins known a “cirques” where the glaciers form, Glacier Helicopters can take you on thrilling flights up the valleys to landing sites high in the mountains.  The already spectacular scenery becomes heart-stopping and eye-popping as you fly close to the sheer rock walls, swoop over icefalls and land amid a sea of seracs and a chaos of crevasses. Check out their website for more information.  Carbon footprint?  Forget about it!

Okarito

The intricate network of inlets, channels and rivers which make up the Okarito Lagoon is home to one of New Zealand’s most beautiful birds: the white heron or, to use its much more beautiful Maori name, Kotuku.  Thick rainforest crowds right to the water’s edge around the lagoon and the bird’s roost in ones and twos on jutting branches and wind-fallen logs.  Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit, when the sunlight shimmers on the calm water of the lagoon and a great silence fills the air.  A number of tour operators offer guided trips on the lagoon.  You can take a kayak trip with Okarito Nature Tours, go bird-watching with Okarito Boat Tours or go on a night-time kiwi-spotting adventure with Okarito Kiwi Tours.  Another good option is to simple sit and enjoy the solitude of this beautiful place.  Just remember to take some good insect repellent with you!

Lake Mapourika

Mirror-calm in its frame of forest, this lovely lake is just a few minutes drive north of Franz Joseph Township.  This is a great place for swimming, picnicking and sunbathing.  There are some great forest walks around the perimeter of the lake and even on a wet and stormy day the lake is still beautiful in a more dramatic way.  If you need a place to unwind after a few days of hard adventuring, you could just sprawl on the jetty and read a book.

Quad Bike

Kiwi farmers have been using tough, stable quad bikes on their farms for years.  Now it’s your turn. Across Country Quad Bikes puts you in the driver’s seat of a 300cc quad bike for a trip across rugged farmland, through boggy mud holes and across braided mountain rivers.  This is great fun and very safe, even for kids.  The bikes are strong and stable and the guides are adept at getting you quickly comfortable with their operation.  Even if you have never ridden a motorbike before you will soon get the hang of it.  The bikes are easy to master and you get to see the countryside from a whole new perspective.

Hot Pools

Save the best for last.  Situated amid deep rainforest, Glacier Hot Pools has three main pools and three secluded private pools.  Lie back in the enveloping embrace of your hot pool, watch the steam rise into the cool air and slowly drift away into the trees.  At night you can count the stars in the canopy of sky overhead and watch the moon rise over the mountains.  You might even like to share your hot pool with a fellow adventurer!

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