The last section of our New Zealand trip was definitely a favourite for both of us! Sure we saw some unbelievable scenery in Part 1 and Part 2, but neither of us had ever set foot on a glacier before. We had no idea what to expect! The Southern Alps come to a dramatic end at the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, with its glaciers practically spilling out into the sea. Below is a photo of Fox Glacier, which travels 13 kilometers from alpine peaks to lush temperate rainforests near the coast, making it one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.
Despite the stormy skies looming overhead, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a (guided) hike up this sheer mass of ice and rock. To get there, first we had to hike up a steep trail through the rainforest alongside the glacier before we could cross over to the ice. Glaciers are always moving, either in a state of advance or retreat, at speeds up to 200 metres a year (that’s a half a metre a day)! When we visited, huge amounts of rain in recent weeks meant that the glacier was more active, and we witnessed small chunks of the glacier splintering and falling off into the stream. On the hike we occasionally heard the ice creaking and once heard a loud crack and rumble as a giant piece fell off the front of the glacier!
Walking on the ice was amazing. It seems silly in retrospect, but I had no idea what to expect; I was half-envisioning an inclined ice-skating rink! My fantasies of crystal-clear ice slabs gave way to a chaotic swirl of rock and ice and massive crevices! Beautiful nonetheless…
It was helpful to have these natural staircase formations everywhere! ;) After our half-day hike of Fox Glacier, we decided it wasn’t enough! With a beautiful blue sky the next day, we decided to do a full day (guided) hike of the neighbouring Franz Josef Glacier:
For this hike, we actually got to hike up through the valley, following the glacial river directly to the base of the glacier before beginning the monumental climb.
See those colourful ants at the top there? Yeah… those aren’t ants. Glaciers are freakin’ big!
When the sun came out, we could really see all the blue in the ice. Just stunning! We had the chance to go further up the glacier this time, where the ice became more and more pristine.
We were surprised to see more kea parrots at the top! They were hanging out at our lunch stop spot… what a coincidence!
And here is the view looking back toward the coast. Spectacular!
The Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers have the distinction of being amongst the few glaciers in the world that come right down into green rainforests. Although pretty during the day, a walk through the pitch darkness of the rainforest at night reveals a hidden surprise.
Those glowing jewel-like beads are the bio-luminescent silky webs of a glow worm! They can only be seen after letting your eyes adapt to total darkness, or with a bit of patience and a tripod. :) Glow worms are not actually worms at all, but a worm-like insect. They dangle sticky drops of mucous on a lattice structure of silk webs and light them up to attract other insects. Yum!
After the glaciers, it was time to make our way back to Christchurch. Of course, we would take the scenic route. We went further North to Punakaiki to check out the bizarre rock formations known as Pancake Rocks.
After reaching Westport, we turned inland and made our way back over to the East Coast. By sun down, we had arrived at Lake Rotoiti in Nelsons Lake National Park. And once again, the stars impressed!
Below, you can see the Southern Cross constellation reflected in the lake. It’s visible only in the southern hemisphere and helped us locate the south celestial pole, about which the stars appear to circle as the Earth rotates about its axis. We shivered in the cold for over an hour while getting these shots, but it was worth it for the fantastic stargazing.
It wasn’t until the next morning that we could properly see the lake. Isn’t it pretty? It was the perfect warm afternoon for a nap on the jetty…
After reaching the East Coast, we made our way down to the beach-side town of Kaikoura:
We walked all the way around the Kaikoura peninsula to take in the scenery and see some wildlife. Have you ever seen baby seagulls before? We hadn’t… until we stumbled upon this seagull colony! Are they cute or what?
Well, that marks the end of our wonderful and epic adventure in the land even further down under! As you can see from this map of our journey around the South Island of New Zealand, we covered quite a bit of distance in our campervan (over 2500 kilometers / 1550 miles), but still left feeling there was so much more to see. Someday, we’d love to explore the North Island as well!
If you like our photos, you can see more and even buy prints in our New Zealand Gallery. I still can’t decide which photo is my favourite. Which one is yours?