West Coast & The Glaciers
Fox & Franz Joseph glaciers
Witness the puzzle of huge valleys of ice that extend well below the snowline, almost to the sea. Here the ice age is still underway.
While glaciers around the world are retreating, the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers still flow almost to sea level. The temperate climate at this low altitude means these glaciers are among the most convenient to visit in the world. Easy walks to the foot of the glaciers pass along ancient river valleys with steep sides bearing gigantic horizontal scars from when the glaciers have retreated and advanced over millennia. When you stand close to the foot of these glaciers, their sheer enormity is very humbling.
Over its 13 kilometre length, the Fox Glacier plummets 2,600 metres from high in the Southern Alps. It is fed by four alpine glaciers that receive around 30 metres of snowfall each year. The snow is compacted at the top of the glacier into blue ice hundreds of metres deep.
Hokitika & Greenstone
Historic Hokitika is a place to appreciate the fascinating history of the west coast. Hear about the ship wrecks, gold miners and pounamu (greenstone) hunters.
Hokitika was first settled in 1860, after the discovery of gold on the west coast. It was an important river port, but many ships came to grief on the notorious ‘Hokitika Bar’ - a sandbar that shifts with every tide. There are some lovely old buildings on the town’s historic walk.
You’ll also notice galleries specialising in pounamu jewellery and art works. The Arahura River, which enters the sea just north of Hokitika, is a traditional source of pounamu. Found in colours ranging from a cloudy light green to deep emerald with different markings, pounamu was considered so significant by Maori that they named the South Island for it - Te-Wai-Pounamu means “the waters of greenstone”. All pounamu is sourced from riverbeds and boulders in the South Island, especially the West Coast.
There are also gold jewellers, wood-turners and potters providing other souvenir opportunities. Hokitika’s icon event is the Wildfoods Festival, which is held at the end of summer.
Mount Aspiring National Park
In straddling the 'great divide' of the Southern Alps, the Mount Aspiring National Park presents a breath-taking range of landscapes.
At its heart is a massive area of wilderness - glaciers, snowfields, mountains, valleys and wildlife habitats that require days of hiking to reach. To the west of the divide, where rainfall is plentiful, the beech forest comes with a sound track of birdsong and waterfalls.
Deep in the glacier-gouged valleys of the east, grassy river flats are hemmed by imposing mountains. And above the tree line, subalpine gardens of tussock, lichens and dainty flowering herbs survive against all odds.
The Infinity Experience
Punakaiki (Pancake) RocksPixabay
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