From Greymouth to Fox Glacier: On the New Zealand West Coast in South Island

Posted: February 9, 2014 in Uncategorized, vacation
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Having driven close to the ocean on the east coast, while reaching Kaikoura, it was now time to cut away from the ocean, and go across the country, towards the west coast of New Zealand.

All drives in New Zealand were a mix of driving by oceans, on vast stretches of flat land, and driving through thick greens of forest land. Most roads were single or at most 2 lane highways, and some were even smaller roads in the middle of large stretches of farmland. Often, you’d not see another soul for several km. The east coast to west coast drive was a fun drive, like all others, and we headed into Greymouth, our first stop.

More precisely, we stayed at Paroa, a kind of sister-city to Greymouth. Although both of them are really small towns anyway! What we missed by oversight was a place called Punakaiki, which came on the way, about 50 km before hitting Greymouth. As we reached Greymouth / Paroa at around 8 pm in the night, it was just a little too much to travel back, see and then return back. Must mention at this point that, since we travelled in Dec-Jan, in proper summer of Southern Hemisphere, we enjoyed the benefits of really long days. Routinely, we would be out, driving and seeing places, or reaching places, till 9/9-30 pm, when it was quite bright! That allowed us to make the most of any day, in terms of things we could do, and distances we were able to cover.

However, it was not possible to head back to Punakaiki and come back, so that option was dropped. Essentially, we just hung out in Paroa, not doing much that evening.

Next day, we were to drive in to Fox Glacier, and started making enquiries about the helicopter ride option, to land on to Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, as the weather was not too good (overcast and a little rain), all of the calls that we made, conveyed to us the message that the helicopter rides were not happening.

So we headed out of Paroa, towards a cute little town called Hokitika. A very typical small town, with open streets, cafes, some local art, and generally kind and friendly locals, that is what I would describe Hokitika as. We walked around the town, saw some of their shops and had breakfast at a local cafe.

Anniversary and New Zealand 008 copyIn fact, an old lady (no younger than 80 years.. perhaps older) walked up to us and chatted. She was from the Netherlands originally, had been to many parts of the world, but had settled down here, for last 50 years. And she loved it. She said that this was a place if you wanted to slow down. That they liked it slow and easy. What’s the rush for, anyway, is how they saw it. And she also said that the cafe we were in, was most popular with the locals, and that one must judge a place by that – if the locals like it, it must really be good! Good wisdom, that was.. nice encounter!

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From Hokitika, we headed off to a very interesting tourist attraction. This is called the West Coast Tree Top Walk.

Here you’ll find a large number of very tall trees. A small trail takes you upwards closer to the top levels of the trees. And here in the midst of the tall heights of the trees, they have constructed metal walkways, so as to give you the feel on how it is to be at the top levels of these tall trees. Quite an interesting construction and experience.

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After completing the Walk on the Tree Tops, we headed straight to Fox Glacier. At number of places on the way, where the helicopter rides were being offered and advertised for, we kept stopping to see if we could book one. And everywhere, we just heard that the weather was bad, and they were still not flying. We headed to Fox Glacier and checked into our hotel anyway. Resigned that at least that day, the helicopter ride may not happen, and we pray for better weather the next day.

There were other means to see and experience the glaciers. One is from a distance, by going to a closest point, and the other was by walking in the glaciers, and which required a certain effort, dexterity, fitness and intent. The latter was not the most attractive option for us! And so we were hoping for the heli rides to happen.

And as we kept asking, we got lucky, and the weather opened up just that little bit to enable us to take the heli ride, though it was not good enough for us to land on the snow. We opted not to wait and take a chance for the next day. And glad that we did not, since as it turned out, the next day was even worse, as far as weather went, and if we had waited, we would have not even got the experience that we did!

In addition to the heli ride to the glaciers, we also went out to Matheson Lake at Fox Glacier, for some of the most breathtaking views of nature, reflections in water, and the blue sky that one could get.

We also happened to be at Fox Glacier on the night of the 31st, so we had hopes and plans of doing something special to bring in the New Year. However, as the locals informed us, in the small town that it was, there were no major celebrations or parties for New Year’s Eve. We did hang around at a nice small cafe, sipping our wine and enjoying some pizza, waiting for 2014 to arrive. Also considering that we were a good 7-odd hours ahead of India at that point, we were welcoming 2014 before most of our Indian friends! Which was an interesting highlight of sorts.. !

Fox Glacier photos are shared below..

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The first day of 2014 broke in Fox Glacier and it was drizzling and overcast. There was an idea to see if we could head straight to Queenstown, as there was a one day cricket match scheduled that day, between West Indies and New Zealand. However, seeing the way the weather was shaping up, we wondered if the game will at all be one, and whether it was worth rushing down. We decided against it.

And just left Fox Glacier as per our original plans, with a scheduled stop at Wanaka on the way, before reaching the most exciting destination in New Zealand, Queenstown.

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