New Zealand: Wild West

From the Abel Tasman area we planned to spend the next few days travelling down the West coast of the South Island, on the way to Queenstown, stopping at several towns and villages along the way. The Wild West, as it’s affectionately called in NZ, gets its name for several reasons: first of all, the ferocious Tasman Sea which batters the coast line making much of the sea un-swimmable; the huge mountains which shoot up from the beaches to as high as 3,500m a few miles further in land; and the huge array of flora and fauna. This all makes the scenery amazing and wide empty roads make it a pleasure to cruise around. Driving down the coastline you really get a feeling for how remote much of the NZ countryside is; there’s so much space and hardly anyone lives there.

First stop was Punakaiki which is a perfect example of the diversity on the West Coast. Huge temperate rainforest covered cliffs loom over the beachside village; and we were recommended not to swim in the sea as the waves and currents were too strong. Instead we took a riverside walk up a steep-sided valley through the rainforest. Dad, Joe and I stopped along the way to cool off by jumping off some river boulders into the deep pools of the river. As we were heading south the water was getting colder, but I felt like I was developing a layer of blubber having been in NZ chilly waters daily for the past week.

Scaling a boulder on the riverside walk from Punakaiki:

Bro with the big leap:

My turn:

Dad’s turn:

Some acrobatics:

After the walk we visited the Pancake Rocks at high tide. The Pancake Rocks are a group of visually impressive limestone cliffs that have been carved and eroded by the sea over the years to produce a series of caverns, blow holes and other weird structures, whilst exhibiting the ‘pancake’ layering of the limestone. As we’d come to expect in NZ, the government had provided a nice elevated walkway to take in the best of the rocks, and explain the natural phenomena.

Walking to the Pancakes Rocks beneath the overhanging cliffs:

Blow hole at the Pancake Rocks:

Cool limestone rock formations carved out by the ocean:

That evening it was my turn to cook, so I resorted to my speciality of chilli, but unfortunately mis-calculated the amount of chilli needed and the result was one of the spiciest meals I’d ever had. We all crossed our fingers that the next day would not be ‘uncomfortable’.

Our next stops were the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers which are unique in that they are very close to the sea and the bottom of the glaciers can be found below 300m in the surroundings of a temperate rain forest; which makes for very surreal viewing. After taking the short trek to the tourist viewing area near the bottom of the glacier which was still a fair distance from the ice, Dad decided that with his mountain experience we could skip the fence and take a closer look, despite a sign warning not to do this without a guide: naughty. We were rewarded for our bravery by a sighting of two Kea (large green parrot type birds with flashy red under the wings); and a short walk on the ice. For those interested Joe, Mum and Dad had no ill effects from the super-hot chilli I made; but unfortunately I couldn’t claim the same and I ended up having to sprint the last bit of the return trek to the public toilets at the car park :s.

These valley sides were carved out by the glacier and are now covered in temperate rain forest and cool waterfalls:

Franz Josef glacier:

Ice formation near the bottom of the glacier:

Kea parrot:

After Franz Josef we moved on to nearby Fox Glacier town where we were staying the night and spent the evening soaking in the hostel’s hot-tub and enjoying a delicious bangers and mash courtesy of Mum.

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