I adore the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I believe it is my spiritual home. The coast is wild and untamed, it’s trees shaped by the prevailing westerly winds. The scenery is so beautiful that you need to be careful not to drive off the road! Seriously!
The South island has two glaciers that come down to near sea-level – Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. I had visited Franz previously and so I opted for Fox this time. We enjoyed Fox Glacier so much that we stayed there 2 nights. It has a cute little townships with a pub, local store and some nice restaurants, as well as a small number of hotels of course.
There are 2 main Fox Glacier walks. You can walk up to the base of the glacier, or do a walk through the bush that ends with a gorgeous view down over the glacier. We chose the latter and were pleased that we did as we love any opportunity to walk through West Coast native bush. The next day we walked up to the base of the Franz Josef Glacier when we visited there.
The highlight of our stay at Fox was having breakfast two mornings in a row at the Matheson Cafe, next to Lake Matheson. The weather on the West Coast is fickle and we were very fortunate to have brilliant weather after they’d had rain for the previous 10 days! The views of Mount Cook and the Southern Alps are stunning from the cafe and it’s surrounds, and the food is of a high quality.
View of Mt Cook and Southern Alps for Matheson’s Cafe
After breakfast we went for a walk around Lake Matheson which takes about 40 mins. The lake is famous for perfect reflections of the surrounding native bush and mountains if the weather conditions are right. It is a very picturesque lake and a must see. Always go first thing in the morning as clouds start to cover the alps by 10 am. In fact it’s probably best to do the walk before you have breakfast but I was too hungry
The Matheson Cafe was also the scene of my second most embarrassing travel moment ever. The day before was my most. I’d been “caught short” when we had stopped to admire a waterfall beside the Haast Pass road. I walked a little ways up what I thought was a secluded track and ducked behind some foliage to have a wee. Little did I know that the track had a good vantage point to view the waterfall. Before I’d had time to make myself decent, up bound a young man who got more of a view than he had bargained for! “Never mind”, I thought as I hurried back to the car, “I’ll never see him again”.
Guess who served us at breakfast the next morning! He was from France on a working holiday and it was his first day of work at Matheson’s Cafe.
We were his first customers! He smiled and looked a bit red-faced as he approached – I just smiled and said nothing. I hope he looks back and finds it as funny as I do
Lake Matheson. After breakfast the clouds had come in and covered the mountains in the background. Still very beautiful.
We also enjoyed a walk out at Gillespie’s Beach. I am always in awe of West Coast beaches. The waves are so powerful and thunderous – mesmerizing to watch but a word of caution. Never swim there – it’s just too dangerous.
Gillespie’s Beach on a calm day
On our 4th and final day we visited Franz Josef Glacier (about 20-30 mins drive north of Fox) before driving back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass.
If you had an extra 1-2 days up your sleeve I would totally recommend staying at Punakaiki which is one of my most favourite places in the world. 30 mins drive north of Greymouth, Punakaiki is famous for it’s Pancake Rock but it has so much more to offer than that.
On your drive back to Christchurch I highly recommend you make another stop before you descend from the the Southern Alps onto the Canterbury Plains. Have a walk around the wonderful and spooky rock formations of Castle Hill and the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve.