As we only had around 8 days left with our campervan, we had to decide whether we want to drive down the east or the west coast of the South Island. Both have its attractions, but because parts of the road at the east coast were still closed due to previous earthquakes, we decided to take the route along the rather wild west coast. On the way we were passing by the impressive Pancake Rocks cliffs and the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and in between there was a lot of nature along the road.
Winding Roads along the West Coast
Driving along the West Coast with a campervan is quite demanding, because first the road is quite narrow, and second because the road follows the coast line, which results in lots of turns, climbs, and descents. On the other hand it was also very beautiful because of the ever changing landscape, and our camping spot near Greymouth was simply awesome, as we were basically sleeping directly at the beach.
One of the top spots along the west coast are the Pancake Rocks in Paparoa National Park. The name comes from the fact that the rocks look like stacked pancakes (with a bit of imagination I have to admit). Nevertheless, it is a beautiful spot where the wild Tasman See meets New Zealand’s west coast. During high tide, the water splashes through blowholes and high up into the air when hitting the rocks. It was definitely worth driving these additional 70 km from Greymouth, and that’s what probably the other hundreds of tourists thought as well.
Franz Josef Glacier
Driving the whole drivable part of the west coast in two days is a lot, so the next stop on the way south was Franz Josef Glacier, which is located in what they call the South Alps. Even though we still have plenty of glaciers back home in Switzerland, I still wanted to get a glimpse of New Zealand’s most famous glacier. There is a small village with the same name and existence is clearly due to tourism. As in other places, you could go skydiving, kayaking, and of course take helicopter and / or guided tours on the glacier. However, the prices were as usual at New Zealand standard (i.e. ridiculously high), so I decided to do glacier activities back in Switzerland. The only thing I did in the evening after a long day of driving was that I put on my jogging shoes and went trail running to the tongue of the glacier and back shorty before sunset. That was a wonderful experience, and on the way I met two Norwegian girls who had exactly the same idea.
The next morning I drove with the campervan to an easily accessible viewpoint so Ilinca also gets to see the glacier that I saw during the run. From there you could compare today’s glacier with pictures from past times, and nothing new here. The glacier is retracting at an unbelievable rate.
The Road towards Queenstown
Haast is the last village before the highway is turning inland. The coastal road would continue for another 30 km until Jackson Bay, but afterwards there is no more road as the coast gets too remote. Over the Haast Pass we were heading towards Queenstown, however decided to stop before in Wanaka.