March 1, 2014
Woke to a crystal clear morning. From Hokitika we could see all the way to the peaks at Mt Cook National Park. The blue skies were not to last however. By the time we finished breakfast the clouds were already pulling in from the Tasman Sea.
The drive to the glaciers, Fanz Joseph and Fox, first passes through more flat agricultural land before hitting the foothills of the national park with no real coastal views. In fact, heading south, the only place that has any view of the coast is a gorgeous overlook just before Haast at the end of the coastal section of highway 6.
Nonetheless it is a pretty drive through the dense vegetation of the west coast.
The road winds up and around the hills with frequent views of snowy peaks above a flat valley floor. River crossings are particularly scenic with views up the interior valleys. Feels more like a drive in the mountains than a coastal drive.
We decided to visit the smaller Fox Glacier rather than its big brother Franz Joseph – the former being supposedly more accessible and more active. Having only seen the one, I can’t be sure that it is the better of the two but we were not disappointed.
It’s a 30 minute walk from the parking lot up the valley to the glacier viewing area. We’ve seen glaciers before, including ice walking in Patagonia and therefore were not interested in a more up close and personal view of the glacier on this particular trip.
Still, it’s impressive to see this incredible mass of ice. The tiny people doing the glacier walks visible from the platform really give you an idea of just how massive these formations are. I particularly liked Fox Glacier because you could see its entire mass from the platform.
A short distance from Fox Glacier Village is Lake Matheson, best known for its potentially incredible refection of the mountain peaks in its mirror-like waters.
On this particular day, despite its calmness, it was still too windy to produce those true mirror reflections and the peaks were obscured from view by a bank of clouds.
The walk around the lake, however, is lovely. A nice wide trail through dense rain forest, you couldn’t ask for a more pleasant hour and an half. Well, maybe a view of the peaks would be nice.
Viewpoint just before Haast – the only spot where we have seen the coast since north of Greymouth the day before. If you are looking for true coastal drive, best find a different coast.