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From your West Coast accommodation you can set off in any direction to explore. For most visitors this means driving and you can certainly experience much of the grandeur of Westland from ground level. But it is not until you gain some height that you really come to understand the true scope and extent of the wild lands of the West Coast. Here are some ways in which you can experience the West Coast from above.
The rainforests are what give the West Coast its unique character. Dark, damp, seemingly impenetrable, the rainforest is home to myriad species of plant, from the tiny ferns and mosses which cover the forest floor, to the giants of the forest, the kaihikatea, matai, rimu and totara trees.
The Treetop Walk is a 450 metre-long steel walkway suspended in the canopy of a rimu and kamahi forest not far from Hokitika. Walking along the Tree-top Walk lets you experience at first-hand the diverse life of the forest canopy. You catch tantalizing glimpses of nearby Lake Mahinapua through the dense foliage and can watch birds such as the native wood-pigeon and the tui as they go about their business. The walkway takes you close enough to the trees that you can examine up-close their delicate leaves and fruits. Informative panels inform visitors about the different species of plant and their place in the life cycle of the rainforest.
The Hokitika Tower, 40 metres high, gives you a panoramic view out across the treetops to the distant Tasman Sea and the lofty, ice-clad flanks of the Southern Alps.
Not everyone’s cup of adrenaline, of course, but for those brave souls who would like to get a new and extreme perspective on the scenery of Westland, a skydive at Fox Glacier will certainly do that!
From sixteen thousand feet (skydivers and pilots always use the Imperial units for height), the entire sweep of the West Coast is set out below you. The view takes in the Southern Alps, the long jagged coast, the rainforests. You can even see over to the dry alpine plateau of the Mackenzie Basin on the eastern side of the alps.
The ice-fields of the Fox Glacier and the Franz Joseph Glacier lie like giant pavlovas against the western flanks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, and you realize that you are looking down on the highest mountains in New Zealand.
But just as you are marvelling at the view, some crazy guy strapped to your back decides to throw the both of you out of the aircraft! Gravity does the rest…
NZ Discovery Adventures, based in Greymouth, offer a number of different adventure packages designed to get you deep into the heart of the West Coast wilderness. Their Rainforest Zipline Sky-ride will see you flying through the rainforest at 65 kilometres per hour on a 310 metre-long wire rope stretched across a deep ravine. The rainforest looks even more spectacular when you are hurtling through it like this! The Zipline trip can be combined with some of their other adventures for a full-day wilderness experience. Visit www.fun-nz.com for details.
Air Safaris Grand Traverse
Take in the vast majesty of the Southern Alps and the grandeur of the forests cloaking their flanks with a Grand Traverse flight from Franz Joseph Glacier airfield. Air Safaris have be operating scenic flights over the alps since 1970 and their comfortable aircraft and highly-skilled pilots mean that a flight with them will be something you will always remember.
Their iconic Grand Traverse flight lets you look down on New Zealand’s highest peaks, longest glaciers and vast snowfields. With the West Coast stretching to the blue horizon in both directions, this is the perfect way to discover just how big this region is. As well as being a highly-skilled mountain flyer, your pilot will tell you all sorts of interesting facts about how the Southern Alps were formed, the natural and human history of the area and a few humorous anecdotes about flying in these mountains. Spectacular!
Helicopters are a perfect way to get high into the mountains without any effort whatsoever. Fox Guides, in Fox Glacier, and Franz Joseph Glacier Guiding, in Franz Joseph, both offer several options for heli-hiking trips up to the isolated snow-fields where the glaciers are born.
You can choose from a four-hour visit to the snow, a half- or full-day ice climbing course, or even an overnight alpine experience where you stay in a mountaineer’s hut high in the sky.
Whichever option you choose, this is the ultimate way to experience the West Coast from above.