Travelling West Coast
The West Coast is really a remote place in South Island and not very accessible. There are 2 ways- Haast's Pass or Arthur's Pass.
Very few people seem to stay at the South Island and the majority of the population at the West Coast, stay at Greymouth.
The drive down the West Coast can be quite tiring. It is also incredibly winding. The roads are so winding, I was constantly on low gear for the entire time driving between Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. The distance of just 30 kms took me half an hour. Also I did skid once across a bridge (due to mud) but it was only momentarily. Still, imagine if I did go off......
If you thinking of driving faster you can forget it. One one side you are facing the mountain wall and the other, a deep steep ravine in which a fall would surely kill you.
Along the way don't forget to stop and look at the great Mount Glorious National Park. There is also a salmon farm along the route that serves lunch.
However Greymouth is easily accessible from Christchurch, about 4 hours along a scenic mountain pass called Arthur's Pass. I am told, the train ride is something incredible but since we were driving, we could not substantiate it.
To speed or not to speed.....
The driving speed limit is 100 kms for all highways in New Zealand.
It really it dead on. It's quite hard to drive any faster. I only manage 120 km/h top speed only on a straight road. When the speed limit is 30km/h, it really is that low on very winding roads.
There's a lot of gravel, ice or mud on the roads. On the mountain highways, there are gantries which will prohibit you from passing if the route is impassible due to snow. Hence be careful.
If you are paranoid, you will notice a lot of speed camera signs along the highway. To tell you the truth, I never saw any policeman or speed traps along the highway. Only lots of lots of sign, even when I travelled 110 km/h sometimes.
However the speeds into towns MUST and always MUST be obeyed. If the speed limit is 60km/h, then drive at 60km/h.
Many towns I saw, had a policeman lying in wait, along a side road waiting to catch unsuspecting speeding cars. Usually they tend to be tourists or foreigners who are not wise enough to obey and are in a hurry.
The fines are also quite high ranging from NZ$100 onwards for speeding and the car rental agencies have no qualms in slapping you with the fines--- by charging to your credit card if you don't pay up. Thus there's is no escape.
Also, our car rental agency advised us to get an additional insurance of $10 for any windscreen cracks. That's quite prudent due to the many rockfalls along the highways.
The basic car insurance offered by car rental agencies covers you only in excess of $500. If you want the full coverage you pay about $10-$18 more per day for rental. Most agencies won't recommend full coverage unless you ask for it.
Stops along the West Coast
As the West Coast is quite remote with very few towns along the way, the prudent thing to do is to stop for supplies and petrol at the bigger towns like Fox Glacier or Franz Josef before you drive town to Greymouth.
The drive to Greymouth is quite remote and lonely. Make sure you have 3/4 tank petrol before attempting the long drive to Greymouth from Franz Josef. Otherwise you might be stuck somewhere with help taking a long time to reach you. Also don't try to drive at night....the long winding roads are unpredictable and you may get into an accident.
Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast. However if you don't want to go that far, you can stop off at Hokitika, a fairly large town, about 20kms from Greymouth. There are many hotels/motels there too.
I think the Arthur's Pass for those driving is accessed by a junction called Kumanthi Junction. I am not too sure about the spelling. The junction is about 10km south of Greymouth.
It will take you about 4 hours to drive from the West Coast back to Christchurch. For us, it was raining heavily and we had to drive slow most of the time due to visibility being terrible. I think we could only see like 2-3 metres ahead of us.
Watch For Falling Rocks
There are many warning signs along the walk to the glacier terminal about falling rocks. There is lots of evidence of previous rock falls.
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