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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

New Zealand: West Coast (South Island)

Franz Josef Glacier
Mighty Franz Josef Glacier dwarfs its visitors in the foreground

The night after finishing the Routeburn-Greenstone Track, I pampered myself with a couple of cold beers in the local pub, while chatting away to a fellow tramper whom I'd met in the caravan park, and who was full of stories of grizzly bears in North America and the desolation of Alaska. The next day was pretty desolate too, as I headed off to Wanaka over the highest road in New Zealand, some 1121m above sea level at the highest point. Unfortunately it's also one of the most corrugated and disastrously steep roads I've ever driven on, so the stunning views and pretty little settlement of Cardrona were less memorable than the struggle to avoid falling off the cliffs. Still, it was a worthy detour, and got me in the mood for a little driving.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier winding its way down from the Southern Alps

The next day I put my foot down and headed north to Fox Glacier, a tiny tourist settlement at the end of – you guessed it – the Fox Glacier. The weather was miserable, so I booked into the local caravan park, set up my tent in the howling rain, and drove off to have a look at the glacier. I managed the walk up to the glacier terminal – a very big affair that differs from the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers by having no terminal lake, so you can walk right up to the ice wall – but the weather was truly dismal, so I headed back to the relative comfort of the campsite.

Steps cut into the face of Franz Josef Glacier
Steps cut into the face of Franz Josef Glacier for tourists to climb

Franz Josef Glacier and Okarito

The pancake rocks at Punakaiki
The pancake rocks at Punakaiki

Ben and Mira made excellent time without their baggage weighing down their bikes, and once they'd arrived we walked all around the Franz Josef Glacier together, before heading up to the Tatare Tunnels, a collection of surreal man-made tunnels into the mountains that are half full with water, and are about as spooky as Tunnel Creek (though considerably less so with Ben and Mira tagging along). Before long we moved on to a little settlement called Okarito right on the west coast, where we set up camp and made a quick dash to the top of the Okarito Trig Point.

The pancake rocks at Punakaiki
Another outcrop of pancake rock

1 I was wrong – I'd bump into them again in Nelson.