West Coast, South Island., New Zealand
Monro beach gives you the unique opportunity to see the rare Fiordland crested penguins from very close (see photos). You have to be on the beach with low tide and preferrably in the morning. Best monthes are allegedly June-november; I was there mid of november and the experience belongs to the best I had in NZ.
Depending on your fitness level, you can chose from a wide range of hikes going up or down the glacier. I treated myself on a heli hike and went down (after I had gone up, of course) . After the guides have explained the necessary safety measures, one can go up in the heli and enjoy a short scenic flight. Once you have landed safely on the glacier, it is a matter of getting used to the icewalking and the very impressive views and sounds of the glacier. The experienced guides give a lot of information and offer you sufficient time to enjoy this breathtaking experience in the blue ice formations.
Notes : booking the hikes in advance is recommended - if weather conditions are bad, the hikes can be cancelled
North of Greymouth, on the South Island's West Coast is Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks. These rocks have been created over many years and surround a couple of impressive blow holes that shoot water upwards as the tide comes in. The rocks look layered as does a pile of pancakes hence the nick-name.
Parking is near the main road and the walk to the rocks is along a basic track.
The views up & down the coast are fantastic with the West Coasts rugged coastline a fantastic photo for the album. The best time to visit here is when the tide is on its way in.
From Canterbury to Greymouth is a road you should consider taking if you're in the south island.
After traversing the plains of Canterbury, here the road starts to ascend the alpine country that is such a mecca for tourists.
This shot is taken overlooking the railway bridge which is another means of transportation you could utilize if you want to cross the island. There's a long tunnel that negates the need for the twisting and winding of the auto route so, if you want to do it in laid back style, you might consider the railway as an option here.
You can walk to and walk on this glacier. It is not recommended, forbidden even, that you walk into it! I was reminded of this while having my photo taken IN IT. Ah well, been there, done that.
One of the sad things about visiting here is the visual evidence of warming, or receding glaciers. There are markers from years gone past that indicate just how far back it has gone but it's not a recent phenomenon as these signs go back over 100 years.
The Pancake Rocks are found in Punakaiki just south of Buller on the west coast of the South Island.
They are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay.
The seabed was raised above sea level by earthquakes to form the coastal cliffs and coastline. The sea, wind and rain have since etched out the soft layers to form the unusual rock formations we see today. This type of formation is called Styroform bedding and it looks like one of those 3D jigsaw puzzles.
The rock has been weathered to form arches and blowholes, heavy ocean swells thunder into the caverns beneath the rocks and huge water spouts blast skywards through the blowholes in a truly spectacular sight. If you are lucky you can also spot dolphins close to shore.
There a couple of interesting gift shops and an internet cafe here and it makes a good stop for an hour if you are driving along the coast.
As we drove down the west coast of South Island just below Westport, we took the advice of our friend Lisa and stopped at Pancake Rocks, also known by their Maori name as Punakaiki. A short walk along a paved path led us to limestone formations that resembled large stacks of pancakes, as delicious and rock solid as anything my mother ever made! Not only are they attractive for their geometry, but at high tide they form blowholes, forceing the incoming waves into mini-geysers. Since we arrivedslightly after high tide, we didn't observe the maximal affect, but the sea-water was driven high enough up the formations to allow rainbows to flourish in the sea mist (look atthe lower lefthand corner of the attached photo and you'll see a rainbow). WE spent an hour here watching the waves and the rocks, even spotting a Hector dolphin far off the coast, before continuing on.
Hokitika is a charming town on the West Coast of the South Island that is famous for its Jade stone.You can even carve your own special stone out of some Jade.
There are some great lookout points to see the surroundings and there is also a Kiwi farm where you can see New Zealand's national bird.But if you are lucky like me you will see one in the wild!
A short drive away you will also find the charming Dorothy Falls.
After you have been to the Glaciers and drove further south you will find a road that leads from Haast to Wanaka.
This is such a beautiful ride that you won't have enough eyes to see all there is to see,after every turn it gets better!
Just a few miles south of Franz Joseph you will find Lake Matheson,the most photographed lake in the world.
The lake is a perfect mirror for the sky and the mountains surrounding it.
The best time to watch this is at dawn!
Visit the Pancake Rocks
These strange pancake shaped rocks formation were featured in "Walking with Dinosaurs" but in "real life" they are just so much more strange and unforgettable. Especially if you are there (as we were) on a windy day when the sea is rough and you get to see the four Blowholes. The Pancake Rocks are the sea front of Paparoa National Park but unfortunately we did not have time to explore the park further - a good reason to go back one day.
One of the highlights of your trip to New Zealand will be a hike on the Franz Josef glacier. There are a few options available for you to do. There is a half day hike, a full day, a heli hike and an ice climbing opportunity here. I did the full day hike and it was amazing despite the rain we had.
When in New Zealand, you really must take in at least one glacier, be it either Fox or Franz Josef. Both glaciers are advancing, by about a metre per day!
In both places you can go glacier walking (see sports travel tips for details) either from the base or from the top reached by helicopter. We were unlucky with the weather while we were there, low cloud cover made the helicopter flight too dangerous.
This location is not only famous for its glacier but also for Lake Matheson, not surprisingly known as "the mirror lake". It is surrounded by native forest and gives an absolutely surreal reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. To better appreciate this, you should visit early in the morning (ideal) or late in the afternoon. If you don't have a car, it is well worth the 12 km bike ride from the town and is a must if you ever travel around this area. Keeping a flask of mosquito repellent handy is a must, however... [(@*#&!*$%#$@!]
One of the most intersting natural sights of the westcoast are the Pancake Rocks. When you look at the picture you understand immediately why the rocks are called that way. Right next to the Panckae Rocks you can find the Blowhole. When it's not very active from the moment you get there, just wait some time and see if anything happens. Evertime the blowhole sprays water you can see a nice rainbow for a few seconds. If the sun is shining that is of course.