West Coast is Best Coast

After our exciting encounter with the Dusky dolphins, we spent the night in Hanmer Springs before driving over to the West Coast. We spent the first day here in Hokitika before heading down to Franz Josef Glacier. Neither of these places really made it onto the top of our list of places we went on this trip, but Alana and I hadn’t been to either yet so it was exciting to be going somewhere new again.

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If you look close enough you can see my mom and sister on the bridge.

The coolest part of Hokitika was the Hokitika Gorge Walk. This was a very short (~20 minutes one way) walk. The trail was broad and well maintained enough that it would probably be pretty easy regardless of your fitness or experience. There is a nice viewing platform with a good view of the swing bridge that crosses the river at the bottom of the gorge. There was a guy there jumping off of the bridge into the water. He did it a couple times without any problem, but I’m not sure what the official stance on this is so I won’t endorse it here. Once you cross the bridge and reach the bottom there is another nice viewing area. You can go down onto some large rocks by the water. It was a bit cold and rainy while we were there, otherwise it probably would have been a great place to go for a dip.

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Shorts were a bad idea. My legs were a feast for the sandflies.

PSA:

If you are going to do the Gorge Walk make sure to bring either long pants/sleeves or bug spray. There were sandflies everywhere and we were woefully unprepared. Alana and I should have known better, but our memories of this tiny menace had faded during our time in Australia and Christchurch.

Another really cool spot in Hokitika was the Glow Worm Dell. There was a little parking lot just off the main road on the north end of Hokitika. It was small enough that you might miss it if you weren’t looking for it. There was a really nice forested area where you could see a pretty impressive amount of glowworms. They were hard to notice if you stared directly at them, but if you unfocused a bit then you could see them twinkling all over the place. Did I mention it was free?

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The glow worms didn’t show up on camera, so enjoy this picture of our horse friend instead!

We had a really great meal that night at Fat Pipi Pizza. We were planning on cooking at our AirBnb that night, but who could pass up a restaurant with a name like that? We were all happy that we decided to give it a try. Now, you’d think that a place with an incredible name that serves pizza couldn’t get any better, but then we ventured into the outdoor seating area in the back. Let’s set the scene: Picnic tables, dampened by the recent rain, glow softly in the warm light as customers enjoy the Pipi-pizza with family and friends. But travel a little further back, and you step into a garden reminiscent of your childhood fairy tale fantasies. Large tree stumps jut out of the grass, lush greenery drapes above and around weather-worn tables and chairs, and a cobblestone path leads out to a slightly crooked wooden gate — through which you are a few steps away from the crashing surf. Large rabbits hop about the garden stop and look at you for a brief moment before skipping away. Their wide, dark eyes suggesting that there’s more here than meets the human eye, if you only follow them down, down the rabbit hole. Sounds too unbelievable? Too fantastical? Check out the video on our Instagram to see for yourself.

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There was a lot of cool art just behind Fat Pipi on the beach.

The next day we made our way down to Franz Josef Glacier. If you’re planning on staying near the glacier then make sure to book your accommodation well in advance. There aren’t any AirBnbs in the town and we ended up having to get four beds in a six bed dorm at a hostel (my mom and sister weren’t too thrilled about this). So if you want your own room make sure to plan ahead!

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New Zealand has a remarkable capacity to look absolutely majestic regardless of the weather.

The Franz Josef Glacier Walk was a lot of fun. It was a bit longer, taking us about two hours to complete. When Alana visited New Zealand back in 2011 you could walk on the glacier, but unfortunately it has receded to the point that if you want to go onto the actual glacier you need to take a helicopter tour. The heli-tours were a bit outside of our budget, so we went with the free walk (guided walks are also available for those of you on a middle of the road budget).

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Hey you! Down in front!

The walk was really nice, even if we couldn’t get onto the glacier. All the rain we had been having meant there were lots of little waterfalls coming down the sides of the mountains. It was pretty crowded, but we still had lots of good views of the glacier and surrounding mountains. I had never seen a glacier before, so while it wasn’t the most scenic walk we went on in New Zealand, it was definitely a unique experience. The visible changes that the glacier is undergoing inspired some serious reflection on the consequences of climate change.

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Now there’s a group of happy hikers (or cheerful trampers)!

We had also planned on visiting Fox Glacier the next day, but the road/trail had been closed due to flooding. We’ll just have to stop there next time we’re in the area.

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